African American Cemetery Presentation


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This slideshow provides tips on identifying and preserving African American cemeteries

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African American Cemetery Presentation

  1. 1. Understanding the Nature of African American Graveyards and Their Preservation Chicora Foundation, Inc. PO Box 8663 Columbia, SC 29202 803-787-6910
  2. 2. How they began In slavery Rarely mapped Rarely mentioned in plantation accounts Chicora Foundation, Inc. 2
  3. 3. Accounts of slave funerals Got Uncle Ben’s [slave] Paul to make coffin for poor old Anthony. . . . . had it put in the coffin as soon as it came. Buried the body alongside of his son about 11 o’clock at night . . . . There were a large number of Negroes from all directions present, I suppose over two hundred. Chaplin, St. Helena, 1850 Yesterday evening the burial of the poor man Shadrack took place . . . . Just as the twilight was thickening into darkness I went with Mr. [Butler] to the cottage of one of the slaves . . . who was to perform the burial service. . . . a large assemblage of people had gathered round, many of the men carrying pine wood torches . . . . the coffin being taken up, proceeded to the people’s burial ground Butler, Butler Island, 1839 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 3
  4. 4. Accounts by ex-slaves Make a coffin, put ‘em in a wagon, walk in procession to de buryin’ ground, singing. Dey didn’t have no funerals for de slaves, but jes’ bury dem like a cow or a hoss, jes’ dig a hole and roll ‘em in it and cover ‘em up. …when dey started to the burial ground with the body every body in the whole procession would sign hymns. When de [slaves] got from de fields some of ‘em went and dug a grave. Den dey put de coffin on de oxcart and carried it to de graveyard whar dey ju’ had a burial dat day. Slave fun’rals was mournful sights, for sho’. Dem home-made coffins was made out of pine planks, and de warn’t painted or lined or nothin’. Sometime several owners got together an’ had one place to bury all de slaves When a slave died on the place he was wrapped in a sheet, put into a pine box, and taken to a ‘burying ground’ where he was put in the ground without any services, and with only the immediate family attending. All other slaves on the place had to keep on working, just as though nothing had happened. De funerals was simple and held at night. De grave was dug dat day. Dar was a burying ground jes' fer de slaves When one of de slaves died, dey was put in unpainted home-made coffins and tuk to de graveyard whar de grave had done been dug. Dey put 'em in dar and kivvered 'em up and dat was all dey done 'bout it. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 4
  5. 5. Some worse than others Some owners prohibited use of African drums to announce funerals Other owners discouraged singing, because it was “heathenish” One owner hurried funerals and prevented singing under threat of whipping Another states, “there wasn’t no time for mourning” Some dead were never buried – Charles Manigault left drowned slave floating in water until tide took body away as a warning to other slaves. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 5
  6. 6. What did graveyards look like? Walking in a wood a mile or so from the village . . . I came upon a Negro cemetery at the times of slavery. A headstone of coarse white marble, five or six of brick, and forty or fifty wooden slabs, all grimed and mouldering with the dampness of the forest, constituted to sordid sepulchral pomps of the “nameless people.” DeForest, Greenville, 1866 One of those ragged patches of live-oak and palmetto and brier tangle which throughout the Islands are a sign of graves within, -- graves scattered without symmetry, and often without head-stones or head-boards, or sticks, but invariably dug east and west, the head to the west. 1923 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 6
  7. 7. Charleston Co., 1968 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 7
  8. 8. Alabama, 1938 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 8
  9. 9. Florence Co., 1997 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 9
  10. 10. Charleston County, 2006 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 10
  11. 11. Charleston County, 2004 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 11
  12. 12. Grave goods If you go through a dilapidated weed-grown graveyard which straggles in and out of the hollows on a side hill covering the high bluffs along the river . . . Nearly every grave has bordering or thrown upon it a few bleached sea-shells of a dozen different kinds. . . . Mingled with these a most curious collection of broken crockery and glassware. On the large graves are laid broken pitchers, soap-dishes, lamp chimneys, tureens, coffee-cups, sirup jugs, all sorts of ornamental vases, cigar boxes, gun-locks, tomato cans, teapots, flower-pots, bits of stucco, plaster images, pieces of carved stone-work from one of the public buildings destroyed during the war, glass lamps and tumblers in great numbers, and forty other kitchen articles. -- 1892 On most graves a cup or piece of cut glass, bottles, and quite often a lamp, may be seen. -- 1923 Under the pine needles, in common with all Negro graveyards of the region, the mounds were covered with a strange litter of half-emptied medicine bottles, tin spoons, and other futile weapons that had failed in the final engagement with the last dark enemy. -- 1929 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 12
  13. 13. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 13
  14. 14. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 14
  15. 15. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 15
  16. 16. Plantings “A few trees, tailing with long moss, rise above hundreds of nameless graves” of blacks. -- William Cullen Bryant, 1850 Flowers may be planted, “ju’ to keep remembrance of de puson.” -- 1923 Chicora Foundation, Inc. 16
  17. 17. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 17
  18. 18. Wood markers Chicora Foundation, Inc. 18
  19. 19. Other characteristics Chicora Foundation, Inc. 19
  20. 20. Fundamental difference African American graveyards are fundamentally different from Euro American cemeteries. To the black what is important is the place; the relationship created with ancestors; a desire to return home; a “good” burial. These differences create conflict in the white world, where land has a value, graves can be moved, one place is as good as another. Chicora Foundation, Inc. 20
  21. 21. “Dig and Plop” vs. archaeology If removal becomes necessary, insist on proper removal and reburial Do not allow “dig and plop” commercial firm Insist on archaeological study Require reburial in precisely same arrangement and with precisely same items Do not allow “mass grave” Do not allow burial of stones and grave goods This? Or this? Chicora Foundation, Inc. 21
  22. 22. Researching African American cemeteries, successfully Legal instruments Maps Aerial photographs Visual clues and inspections Geophysical and archaeological techniques Oral history Death certificates Other sources? Chicora Foundation, Inc. 22
  23. 23. Legal instruments Chicora Foundation, Inc. 23
  24. 24. Old Maps Chicora Foundation, Inc. 24
  25. 25. Aerial photographs Chicora Foundation, Inc. 25
  26. 26. Ground Penetrating Radar Chicora Foundation, Inc. 26
  27. 27. Penetrometer Chicora Foundation, Inc. 27
  28. 28. Death certificates Chicora Foundation, Inc. 28
  29. 29. Oral History Oral history does not automatically yield accurate renditions of past events Personal or social biases? Look for collaborating evidence BUT, locals often know about cemeteries 29
  30. 30. Visual Clues Depressions Plantings Grave goods Evidence of markers Evidence of remains 30
  31. 31. Archaeological Exposure 31
  32. 32. Preservation techniques? Chicora Foundation, Inc. 32
  33. 33. Record Record with state (state archaeologist) Doesn’t have to be complete – but must have good directions and USGS map Record at Register of Deeds Most counties require a plat = $ & owner’s permission But, most effective Chicora Foundation, Inc. 33
  34. 34. Long-term? How will site be preserved for next 50 years? What about development? Doesn’t have to be a gated community, can be a single home What about natural events – for example, hurricanes? What about vandalism and looting? Removal of grave goods? Theft of markers? Removal of plants? Chicora Foundation, Inc. 34
  35. 35. Must have a constituency People must care about the cemetery Find descendants Constituency must care about the cemetery Visit the cemetery – keep tract of visits Keep photographs of the cemetery Mark the graves Place flowers/plants on the graves Make certain owner is aware of cemetery Chicora Foundation, Inc. 35