JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Just off the Arlington Expressway in Downtown Jacksonville, you will find Old City Cemetery.
The first streets in town had just been named when this plot opened-up. It is the final resting place to a doctor credited with saving a community: Alexander Darnes.
Darnes' life began as a slave and eventually became a servant to a Confederate officer.
“Born into the same household as Edmund Kirby Smith down in St. Augustine, they would serve together on the western front when Kirby Smith was a captain during civil war times,” historian Emily Lisska said.
Darnes trained as a medical doctor and returned to the First Coast, and was tested almost immediately by the Yellow Fever Epidemic in the late 1880s; a time Lisska says if you could afford to leave, you did.
“So a lot of the white physicians and nurses stayed behind and Alexander Darnes was the African-American physician who stayed here and cared for people,” Lisska said.
Roughly 5,000 people were wiped out by the disease, and more than a quarter of the city showed symptoms. Lisska said it was grit and professionalism that helped Darnes succeed.
“As James Weldon Johnson pointed out about Dr. Darnes, he also has to prove himself in his own community, the African-American community, and slowly he gained their confidence and then catapulted to one of the most beloved figures in Jacksonville history," she said.
It was a legacy maintained for 124 years. Lisska pointed to records of Darnes’ 1894 funeral, which show nearly 3,000 packed into Old City — making it one of the largest funerals in Jacksonville history.
In 2013, Darnes' grave was restored by the Kirby Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.