Database launched for burial grounds
HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 4/24/2013, 6:25 p.m.
Any mention of African burial grounds automatically brings to mind New York City's historic African Burial Ground, which was unearthed in 1991 during the excavation for the construction of a federal building. More than 400 skeletal remains were uncovered, which incited a massive public outcry.
No excavation or desecration of grave sites is necessary for Fordham University, where the Department of African and African American Studies has embarked on a mission to identify, document and memorialize the burial sites of the enslaved.
Relying mainly on records and information from descendants, property owners, churches, community organizations and concerned citizens, a burial database will be compiled to not only document the site, but to possibly inspire a permanent memorial for the enslaved.
"For scholars and historians, as well as institutions interested in reconstructing the history of American slavery, the database will be a valuable research tool," said a press release from the department. "Once established, a primary goal of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans will be to create a national burial registry that will be accessible to the public as a genealogical instrument to assist those searching for lost fragments of their personal history."
Key to this quest is the submission of information about local burial grounds, so the department is currently seeking any information pertaining to burial grounds where there have been one or more burials "of persons who died enslaved or were born enslaved and died after emancipation."
It makes no difference if the grave site is marked, unmarked or abandoned. Each evaluated submission will receive follow-up communication for verification and complete documentation, the department promised. Moreover, the information is kept confidential and not shared or forwarded to anyone else.
"Understandably, we the living pay very little attention to graveyards and grave sites, except when we bury and erect a tombstone to our parents," said noted photographer Chester Higgins Jr. "But within these small Southern cemeteries lie so much of our history. The knowledge of these post-freedom graves, found in so many small church cemeteries in the South, paints a grid of the history of our people."
To submit information on a grave site, visit www.fordham.edu/academics/programs_at_fordham_/african_and_african_/contact_us_73640.asp, or contact Sandra Arnold at 113 W. 60th St., Lowenstein Building--room 414F. Phone: 212-636-6360, fax: 212-636-7253, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.