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African-American Cemeteries

  • 1.  African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-13-2017 09:49
    @Faye Anderson shared her recent blog post on Philadelphia cemeteries, and African-American burials in particular.

    African-American cemeteries are one of my personal preservation interests, and we have many issues in Florida with preservation of our African-American cemeteries. We have an excellent group through the Florida Public Archaeology Network that has for years done training on how to take care of cemeteries (called appropriately CRPT: Cemetery Resource Protection Training), but I am not sure of the stats on how many African-American cemeteries they have been able to reach. 

    I most recently came across - a cemetery in Miami that is need of serious attention.

    Does anyone have specific programs addressing preservation of African-American cemeteries?

    Adrienne Burke
    Executive Director
    Riverside Avondale Preservation
    Jacksonville FL

  • 2.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-13-2017 10:21

    Hi Adrienne,

    I share your passion. As we approach the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans at Jamestown, we should honor the ancestors by cleaning up their burial grounds. Perhaps we can start a crowdfunding campaign.

    Faye Anderson
    All That Philly Jazz
    Philadelphia PA

  • 3.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-13-2017 12:33

    We have similar issues here in my county! Boone County was an enslaved border county in Kentucky. It has been very difficult to identify enslaved burials within private cemeteries due to their lack of grave markers. In addition, we have post-Civil War African American cemeteries which have not been well documented. In one case in particular, we have a known African American cemetery on the perimeter of a a public cemetery, but markers are sporatic and there have been ownership issues with the property. I would find information on best practices on documentation and memorialization to be very helpful.

    Thank you,


    Bridget Striker
    Local History Coordinator
    Boone County Public Library
    Burlington KY

  • 4.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-13-2017 13:57
    Adriane, at the end of the last year Nadia Orton wrote a Forum blog "Recovering and Preserving African American Cemeteries." Maybe connecting with her?

    Melita Jureša-McDonald
    Information & Content Specialist
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    San Francisco, CA

  • 5.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-14-2017 08:39


    I have been away from Lexington, Kentucky for a long time now, but you might check out information on what is called "African Cemetery #2" or more formally "Cemetery of the Union Benevolent Society #2.",_Kentucky) The cemetery is located in the city's north side and was for years a fairly neglected and forlorn site until (I think) the late 1990s or early 2000s. Someone started a movement to clean it up, clear it and keep it mowed, and to stand up and repair fallen and broken monuments. Since that time, it went from one of the city's least well-known tracts to perhaps one its more well-documented and researched. I don't pretend to know about it great detail, but an internet search should return lots of documentation, including online documentaries and such. I am sure that in those sites and videos, strategies and programs that were used or tried are discussed.

    Patrick Thompson (formerly of Lexington, KY)
    Bellevue NE


  • 6.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-14-2017 09:56
    Thank you for reminding me of this, Patrick!

    Typical of many African-American cemeteries of the 19th century, AC #2 was a 'benevolent society' undertaking (pun intended...).  The majority of these experienced the same issues across time--the decline of the society and funds necessary for maintenance, issues with deeds and property rights, and an overall community malaise in keeping them maintained.  Often, this latter task falls to a municipal government--with less than stellar outcomes.

    In Lexington, a certain Rev. Munday spearheaded the early 2000s effort to reclaim the history and dignity of AC #2.  Among many other partners conscripted in the project was the University of Kentucky's Department for Historic Preservation.  At that time, it was a small program comprised of only about 8 of us...  Fred Rogers (an HP grad student then, and now Historic District Coordinator for the City of Shelbyville, KY) took on the task of writing the documentation to secure a state Historic Marker for the site, and I believe also wrote the National Register nomination for the property.  Alice Turkington (Geography, UK) and Mike Reigert did considerable research work on conservation of markers and gravestones.

    A similar project I am familiar with is the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Knoxville, TN.  This was once on our "fragile sites" list for several years running when I was there.  Again, an engagement was had with a university and its College of Design (in this case the University of Tennessee.  Considerable efforts and improvements have come over time as the community became more involved with the history and landscape of the site.  The following are some contacts and links that might further Adrienne's and others goals:

    Current AAC #2 Coordinator contact:  (859) 258-3132
    AAC #2 Facebook page: African Cemetery No. 2
    Fred Rogers:  (502) 487-8220
    Alice Turkington:  (859) 257-9682

    Knox Heritage: (865) 523-8008
    OFC Project, UT:

    Patrick Thrush
    Bath NY

  • 7.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-14-2017 10:53

    I too am interested in African American cemeteries, specifically in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Fernandina (Amelia Island). However, I fear that those cemeteries in Jacksonville are mostly lost because of the great fire in the early 20th century. As for St. Augustine and Fernandina I am not certain there were African American cemeteries during the 18th and 19th century under the British and Spanish flags, making it nearly impossible to identify where people were buried.

    If anyone has any information, I would be more than interested and ready to travel to the sites.

    Gylbert Coker

    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA

  • 8.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 06-15-2017 14:49
    Thanks everyone, these are great examples and I took some suggestions away from this too...
    - Crowdfunding or other group effort to address this issue - we are so heavy on nonprofits in this world, I'm hesitant to suggest another one, but perhaps one unified source to work on this would be helpful.
    - Best practices for management and appropriate memorialization. Lack of markers is a common issue I've found in African-American cemeteries. It is true of the African-American section in the historic cemetery in my small town. I most recently saw it very distinctly in Macon, GA. The African-American cemetery had large portions of what appears to be open space compared to the white cemetery, but we taphophiles know better! And what would a contemporary marker or memorial look like, if that is something that should be done.
    - Examples of successful preservation stories.

    @Gylbert Coker I live in Fernandina and work in Jacksonville! I'm glad to chat anytime. Fernandina/Amelia Island was unique. Our largest historic cemetery, Bosque Bello, dates to the Spanish era, and as a result the original portion is an integrated cemetery. The Spanish didn't have the same racial views that would have separated people - I actually just attended a great conference in St. Augustine (check out Cemetery Resource Protection Training by the Florida Public Archaeology Network) that talked about this related to cemeteries in St. Augustine during the Spanish period. They were more concerned that everyone was Catholic, regardless of race. It wasn't until Jim Crow era days that Fernandina segregated Bosque Bello.

    The Jacksonville cemeteries are another issue - they do not get much attention. (But unfortunately, I know this isn't uncommon.)

    Adrienne Burke
    Executive Director
    Riverside Avondale Preservation
    Jacksonville FL

  • 9.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-11-2017 21:21
    Glad to see this discussion. We have been involved in a variety of cemetery concerns.

    1. In 2005 the Town government of an area called Colonie in upstate New York ordered a sewer to be put in along our highway route 32 in the ViIlage of Menands in New York State. While digging the trench they discovered they were digging through a cemetery that was not marked and had been un-noticed for 200 years. The cemetery was that of enslaved persons. Thirteen sets of remains were taken out of the cemetery in the path of the sewer dig. These 13 plus one more that had been discovered 10 years earlier were reburied last year in a neighboring established cemetery. The fourteen sets of remains were people who had been enslaved by the Schuyler family about 200 years ago. The Schuylers had been the major land holders in the area and enslaved a number of people to maintain their property. When the remains were first discovered a committee was drawn together to provide guidance from the community to the Town and to the State Museum which would be involved in caring for the remains until they were reburied. The first committee did little because of internal disagreements within the group and ineffective leadership. A second effort was drawn together at a later time but again failed because of a lack of public participation. A third effort finally was able to bring about a reburial of the remains with a ceremony and the participation of a wide range of clergy from the community of all faiths.  The participants of this last effort continue to work with the cemetery for an annual celebration of the ancestors. The reburied people were nearly all people of African descent. One was native American. The reburial took place June 18th of 2016 with a nod to the June 19th celebration.
    2. In a neighboring area to the south of where I live in Albany, the Village of Kinderhook once had an African American population American of greater significance than it does today. Along side a baseball field in the town park was once a cemetery that had been allowed to be overgrown with weeds. The surviving stones had been lost in the weeds. It was discovered that this plot was an African American cemetery that had been set aside around 1900 for the use of the African American community. Two teachers from the local schools who were of progressive leaning took the clean-up on as a project and were able to bring the cemetery back to a level of dignity. They arranged as well to buy a road side marker to identify the cemetery and convened a formal ceremony to unveil the marker. It is believed the cemetery holds as many as 400 burials.
    3. In recent years and in connection with the two events mentioned above another notable development is taking place. Members of the Reformed Church in America in the region and nationally are beginning to take notice of the presence of African people in the early Dutch Reformed church. Early church records note the presence of many African decedent people as members of the church. There is a movement within the Reformed church to re-examine the church's early history of to re-read that history showing the presence of African descendant people in those churches, sometimes free and sometimes enslaved. Many of the churches hold old church records, often in Dutch, that reveal this information. We have some local enthusiasts who are members of the Reformed Church and uncovering that history for our area.
    4. In bringing these several threads together I was part of a convening which we called an Burial Grounds Mini-Conference. We held meetings for this in December of last year and February of this year. In these meetings we brought members together of the groups that has been involved in several efforts outlined above to talk about common concerns. In New York State for instance isolated burials found apart from a cemetery have no protections under law and so there is nothing that prevents damage or destruction of the burial site. This is an issue we may bring forward for State level legislation as one step. This is an area of concern for archaeologists and preservationists as well as for basic human dignity. We are looking for other areas that might yield positive results through common action.

    I suppose there are lots of ways people can have a positive impact along the lines of what might be called preservation work. I'd love to hear more about what other people are doing.

    Paul Stewart
    Underground Railroad History Project
    Albany NY

  • 10.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-12-2017 08:30
    An interesting example of the loss of a cemetery and the efforts to preserve is the African American Cemetery cemetery at Old Salem Museum and Gardens in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The cemetery lost its gravestones,because of a women's "beautification" project in the early 20th century. Since then, the museum has been working with universities to locate the burial sites and work to get proper representation of the individuals buried there.  It also originally started out as a non-Moravian cemetery, so there were some white "outsiders" buried alongside the African Americans, before the Moravians decided to 100% segregate. A lot of interesting stories and tactics to interpret the history.

    Sarah Marsom
    Historic Preservationist
    Tiny Jane Project Founder
    Columbus, OH

  • 11.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-12-2017 10:47

    Fascinating discussion. My ancestors were in St. Augustine and Fernandina. I have no idea (as I don't live in either place) how the remains of "colored" people (long story but if you know history of Spanish you understand) can be found, especially those people who were "free people of color". I don't even know if there were slave cemeteries. After Americans took control of Florida, the family line broke apart and some family members moved to Jacksonville, Florida. I wonder how those cemeteries have been saved; big problem there was the great fire that destroyed so much. I traveled to Jacksonville once on an African American historical tour and there is hardly anything remaining of the African American community. This is what disturbs me. White people come into an area they once did not want, now find appealing, they tear everything of value down then put up a sign that informs visitors that this was once a black community.

    Mr. Stewart, do you think that you were able to discover and rescue those remains because that area was left alone; no one was interested in the area (until the sewer work was required?) And Burke, the work being done in Miami is interesting as some ancestors moved to Miami and Florida Keys to escape the attacks against "free people of color" taking place in St. Augustine. I will look into that website.

    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA

  • 12.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-13-2017 07:48
    Ms. Coker wrote: "do you think that you were able to discover and rescue those remains because that area was left alone; no one was interested in the area (until the sewer work was required?"

    The cemetery seemed to go unnoticed perhaps by luck as it were. A major road was built right pas it, the land along the west was divided into separate properties. A Fedex warehouse was built near it and a drive way laid out right past and over it so the work was not too deep. One of the graves was discovered around 1995 but it appeared to be an isolated burial. The whole community of Menands, NY  had also grown up around it. So on the one hand it was not that no one was interested int he are. But rather no one ever dug there for the myriad reasons people dig. So I would attribute it to luck and Providence.

  • 13.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-14-2017 16:26

    Thank you  for your response Paul Stewart. I understand the luck of there not being an interest in the area thus preserving those graves; as for Providence, I don't know enough about Rhode Island to appreciate that comment. In Thomasville Georgia there are two African American grave sites. Because I have only been the director of the MYA Museum for two years, I have not had the time to do any research. What I do know is that Henry O Flipper, first African American to graduate West Point, is buried in one of them. I know that, similar to cemeteries in New Orleans, African Americans buried here go back more than a century. Also, I learned that there is a smaller (sort of secret) grave site where African American soldiers who suffered from an illness (yellow fever maybe?) are buried. What I recall from that discussion I had with a local woman, the reason these men are buried away from others has to do with the fact (she said) that to dig them up would cause the germs (virus) to come to the surface and contaminate people. It is curious that in this little town no one has bothered the cemeteries.

    On another note, Mr. Stewart, do you travel to New Hampshire from time to time? If you do, you might visit JerriAnne Boggis, the director of Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire. I don't have the website but I am pasting the following data.
    Sankofa Guided Tours
    Every Saturday,
    May 13 - September 30
    For more information visit :
    Black Heritage Trail Guided Tours
    or Call 603-380-1231

    Gylbert Coker

    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA

  • 14.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 10-15-2017 09:32
    Dear Ms. Coker,

    Just to be clear. My reference to "Providence" was a reference to the indecipherable mysteries of the Universe or God, not Providence, Rhode island.

    I have been familiar with the work in New Hampshire of the Black Heritage Trail. There is a great book they did on their community. I do not recall the title, nor can I lay my hands on it in my collection. I do have a copy somewhere.

  • 15.  RE: African-American Cemeteries

    Posted 01-08-2020 12:50
    I joined this forum simply to belatedly respond. I'm also searching for groups that help preserve African American cemeteries. I've been researching Jacksonville west side history for a few months--I'm just a novice--and have already found too much to ignore. There are many African American cemeteries in this part of town that were not destroyed by fire. COJ has a full report from 2007, thanks to the work of Jon R. Ferguson. These cemeteries were literally bulldozed over, built upon, exist underneath development, under retention ponds, plats of weeds, or someone's front lawn.  (i.e. The Yukon Cemetery is pre-Civil War. The Roberts-Browns-Spiers Cemetery had reportedly as many as 350 African American graves). This report identifies the locations of cemeteries. Although I'm sure there are some that have yet to be discovered, sadly, we actually KNOW the locations of historic African American cemeteries. These include former plantation sites, there is Census data and historical maps providing documentation.

    A follow up report made recommendations of models to care for neglected cemeteries, leaning heavily on "Friends" models. They highlighted a 501c3 that had recently formed back in 2007--for which I could find no more information. Most recently, the current mayoral admin learned that the African American cemeteries under city care were still still neglected. Searching online, I only found a couple "Friends of _____ Cemetery" groups.

    I have 2 thoughts after doing this for only 4 months.  This is knowledge that a novice historian can find with only the internet, a library card,, (a degree in Lit, minors in Art History and French--it's not even my specialty). Granted, I've become a bit obsessed.

    1. JCRP may know of a group that is gaining traction on this. I reached out to the Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project when I uncovered an undocumented incident of racial terror lynching, associated with a USCT veteran's widow. They welcomed me to join them. They worked with MOSH on the current "Legacy of Lynching" exhibit. They have other initiatives in Jax, interact with a variety of education institutions, non-profits, etc.

    2. What about kids??? It may sound really strange to connect children with death and I did not connect them at first. However, we should give credit to schools' improved curriculum. Veteran's Day 2019, I went to St. Nicholas Cemetery to find the grave of the USCT soldier that I mentioned above. I was surprised that my two kids (9 and 11, we're white) were emphatic that they come help. They helped me search for 2 hours. They didn't understand why the USCT graves were so unkempt. They asked "where are the other school kids?" They wanted to know why no one else helps take care of USCT graves. I had kept them updated on my research and they were AWED by the soldier (February Francis, aka Shaw or Christopher), an escaped slave who joined the Union and fight for his own freedom. Then he chose to return to the city where he had been enslaved, build a business, owned land, adopted children, rebuild the city. They attend Venetia Elementary--next to NAS, across from Yukon Cemetery--with a high military presence. School curriculum is now much better about teaching that slavery was bad, it's more openly anti-racist, while also supporting military and teaching patriotism.

    My kids want to go back and clean graves! Two little white kids from the west side, reared in DCPS schools. Our children have learned to value and respect the history of African Americans, the slave experience, and the military experience. I was honestly disappointed that I hadn't realized this was something they would eagerly want to help do.

    Maybe we're trying to fix things, as adults, for the future. In reality, maybe we've already affected change and often overlook when new growth needs to be nourished. We don't have to do everything. I bet if we found a way to support them and this is important to kids, they'll move mountains. Especially teenagers.

    Mary Breitenbach
    Jacksonville FL