Recovering the Black Past through African American Cemeteries

Issues surrounding historic preservation efforts and memorialization of Black history.
2020 Photograph of East End Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

East End Cemetery

A historical Black burial ground, reclaimed.
CORE RESOURCE: Digital history project mapping an African American cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
An unkempt cemetery

When Black History Is Unearthed, Who Gets to Speak for the Dead?

Efforts to rescue African American burial grounds and remains have exposed deep conflicts over inheritance and representation.
THEMATIC CONTEXT: Broader concerns about representation and inheritance (of land and responsibility of maintenance), related to the movement for African American graves-protection efforts nationwide (including the East End Cemetery as well as sites in New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina).
Map Green Lawn Cemetery.

An Indianapolis Archivist’s Curiosity Revives Historical Truths

A Black cemetery by the site of the former Greenlawn Cemetery in Indianapolis is now a point of contention as the city plans to develop the area.
METHODOLOGICAL CONTEXT: Sometimes burial sites are gone -- in this case, washed away by a river because African American graves were relegated to the most vulnerable plot of land. Archival research is an important method of discovering this history.
Woman playing piano for African American soldiers.

Black Burials and Civil War Forgetting in Olustee, Florida

Finding the forgotten and racialized landscape of Civil War memory.
THEMATIC CONTEXT: Awareness of Black burial grounds has increased at the same time as discussions about Confederate monuments have captured national attention. They are two parts of a larger reckoning with our monumental landscape, what has been commemorated in stone and what hasn't, and how that has shaped our historical memory of the Civil War.
Illustration of the shadow of Mary Lumpkin over the blueprint of Virginia Union University

The Enslaved Woman Who Liberated a Slave Jail and Transformed It Into an HBCU

Forced to bear her enslaver's children, Mary Lumpkin later forged her own path to freedom.
PLACE-BASED CONTEXT: African American cemeteries are part of a broader landscape of African American history that cities like Richmond are preserving and interpreting.
A street in the 1940s with cars parked in front of a food market and a barber shop.

Planned Destruction

A brief history on land ownership, valuation and development in the City of Richmond and the maps used to destroy black communities.
PLACE-BASED CONTEXT: And mapping cemeteries is also part of larger efforts to use historic maps and digital tools to understand how racism shaped urban geographies.
African American prison laborers.

A School District Wants to Relocate the Bodies of 95 Black Forced-Labor Prisoners

A school district owns the property where the bodies of 95 black convict-lease prisoners from Jim Crow era were buried.
CONTRASTING SITE: While many African American burial sites were spaces that served communities, others, ike the mass graves of prisoners forced to labor for the Imperial Sugar company in Sugar Land, Texas, under the convict leasing system, are sites of exploitation. How are the imperatives for preservation and commemoration of such sites similar or different?
Smithsonian anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide points out details in the sculptures depicting the faces of two enslaved African Americans who labored at Catoctin Furnace in the late 1700s or early 1800s

Faces of the Dead Emerge From Lost African American Graveyard

The bones of enslaved furnace workers tell the grim story of their lives.
CONTRASTING METHODS: What if the people themselves, rather than the places of burial, are the focus of commemoration? DNA and forensics analysis of human remains offer opportunities for a different kind of cultural retrieval.