In her will, Lewis identified herself as a “Spinster and Sculptor.” She asked for a dark walnut coffin, and that a notice of her death be printed in the Tablet, a British Roman Catholic publication. The resulting announcement — a curt sentence fragment — made no mention of her myriad accomplishments, and did not reach those who sought her across the sea. Until, over a century later, it found Richardson.
Richardson sees her research as part and parcel with the efforts of other black women scholars: after all, she noted, Alice Walker found Zora Neale Hurston’s grave, “out in the long grass.” “So I’ve become a cemetery sleuth,” she told me.
Until recently, the grave was unmarked: a slab of stone flush with the earth, overgrown with moss, one among many in the stone forest of St. Mary’s. Last year, however, the town where Lewis was born chose to reclaim its native daughter.