Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Making Headstone Changed a Funeral Director's Life; Headstone, Story of Hate Crime Victim Will Be on Discovery

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Making Headstone Changed a Funeral Director's Life; Headstone, Story of Hate Crime Victim Will Be on Discovery

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY MARAGHY

A Clay County funeral director was moved to tears when he was chosen to design a headstone for an historic grave that has never had a real marker.

"The whole thing has really changed my life," said Craig Seaton of Holly Hill Funeral Home in Middleburg. "I saw the providence of the hand of God. The chance that little Holly Hill would get this call. I had a little itty bitty part in history."

Seaton designed and fast-tracked production of a $6,000 grave marker that was installed at the burial site of Johnnie Mae Chappell, a Jacksonville mother of 10 who was killed in a racially motivated slaying in 1964.

The 1,100-pound granite stone features praying hands, flowers and the inscription: We will understand it better by and by.

Four white men, charged with the drive-by shooting of Chappell, told police they were looking for a black person to shoot. They were indicted on first-degree murder charges but only one served any jail time - a 3-year sentence for manslaughter.

Chappell's youngest son, Shelton, who was an infant at the time of his mother's death, has been lobbying, unsuccessfully so far, to get the murder case reopened and the other three suspects brought to justice.

Meanwhile Keith Beauchamp, a New York filmmaker with a passion for making movies about civil rights injustices, came to Jacksonville to film a re-enactment of the Chappell case, slated to air this summer on the History Channel. For the movie, Beauchamp arranged the purchase and installation of the headstone.

Film production manager Heidi Pena said she had two weeks to get a stone made in time for filming, and could not find a Jacksonville area funeral home that could not meet the deadline ... until she contacted Seaton at Holly Hill.

"He made it happen. He was an amazing contributor. He's a wonderful person and the world needs more people like him. He was touched to be asked," she said, adding that he sent her a thank-you e-mail that brought her to tears. …

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