In 2021 Camoya Evans, a Student of Color at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, found out that Lillian Smith Davenport, possibly the first Student of Color to attend the University, did not have a grave marker at her final resting place in Oak Grove Cemetery. Camoya felt moved to research Lillian, to fundraise for her grave maker and to design it.
Location: Corner of East Avenue and La Crosse Street
Right past the Hear, Here sign you would be in the section 44 of the cemetery, and that is where Lillian Smith Davenport is buried. She’s most famously known for coming back to La Crosse in the early 40s and contacting the NAACP to confront downtown businesses in La Crosse to remove their No Negro Signs – these signs excluding Black Americans into their buisnesses.
When I first started the project I was more so worried about just providing her headstone. She doesn’t have any direct family to ask and I didn’t know if I, if it was appropriate for me to do that, and so I kinda grappled with that quite a bit. However I think, I kinda saw it as, well, being Black in La Crosse I’m kind of inherently a part of the Black community and they were of the Black community in the early 1900s and so we’re distantly related.
I think that kind of fear and hesitation is kind of what stopped me at first and I didn’t know if I was the right person to do this. I didn’t know what it would look like. I didn’t know anything about designing a gravestone. However I think it kind of all fell in line. It’s really just Lillian’s grace given to me, because I think a lot of her activism, it kind of just clicked, at least what is there in the archives. I think that really validated me and inspired me to keep going. So all the hesitation all the fear that I had left me. Because, I think, it wasn’t about me.
I am Camoya Evans. It was an honor for me to spend all this time designing her headstone.