In his own right, John C. Asbury deserved a place in the spotlight as a distinguished African American lawyer and state representative in early 20th-century Pennsylvania.
Yet his fame has been overshadowed by the likes of the singer Marian Anderson, the activist Octavius V. Catto, and the composer Charles Albert Tindley - all of whom came to be buried at the historic Eden Cemetery that he cofounded.
But on Thursday, both Asbury and the Collingdale cemetery were honored in separate ceremonies for their significance. A state historic marker was unveiled outside Asbury's South Philadelphia home, and a steel bench was dedicated at the 112-year-old Delaware County cemetery.
Asbury "was the most prominent African American politician in Pennsylvania in the first half of the 20th century," said Richard Sand of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission during a morning ceremony at 1710 Christian St.
Asbury, who died in 1941 and is buried at the cemetery, introduced a civil-rights bill as a state legislator in 1921. The bill was passed by the House but died in the Senate.
He is a founder of Mercy Hospital and the Christian Street YMCA. He also joined with four others to establish the cemetery as a place where African Americans excluded from other burial grounds would have a final resting place.
"He did so much for us, and nobody knows him," said Joyce Haywardo, 77, a retired marketing manager for AT&T who lives in the former Asbury home.
Haywardo moved into the house more than 30 years ago and was told by neighbors that the couple who once lived there were "bigwigs." So she began to do research.
She learned of the accomplishments of Asbury and his wife, Ida Bowser Asbury, the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2009, Haywardo and her daughter, Valerie, began the process of applying to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for a historic marker. After several revisions to the application - and with the help of historian Francis Ryan of Rutgers University - the marker was approved.
Haywardo hosted the short ceremony Wednesday morning and then dashed to the cemetery for the afternoon proceedings.
At Eden, Asbury, his cofounders, and the cemetery they established were recognized by the Toni Morrison Society, an international nonprofit that encourages scholarly study and discussion of the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author's work.
The society dedicated what the organization calls "a bench by the road" at the cemetery. It is a society initiative rooted in a 1989 interview during which Morrison lamented a lack of historic markers commemorating the lives of slaves.
"There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road," Morrison said at the time.
The society has placed 11 of the 6-foot-long, 26-inch-deep black steel benches at locations around the world, including Sullivans Island, S.C., where 40 percent of African slaves disembarked to be sold in North America.
"Eden is a no-brainer as a way to honor the memory of African American history - the triumphant and tragic stories, and trying to uncover lost history as well," said Craig Stutman, an assistant professor of history at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown and a member of the society.
Others buried at the cemetery include the architect Julian Abele, a designer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the abolitionist William Still; and the women's rights activist Frances E.W. Harper.
The bench is the first step in an effort to establish a memorial garden and education center on a landing in the cemetery.
It is a place where visitors can sit and think about the history they are surrounded by, said Carolyn Denard, dean of Connecticut College and the society's founder and board chair.
"This is no longer a place of exile. ...," Denard said. "It's a place that holds our best and brightest."