Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hidden History – African American Cemeteries

One of my favorite gifts of a recent birthday was Professor Lynn Rainville’s new book, Hidden History; African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia.

Her story begins in 2008 when a friend (and archaeologist by profession) called her to report damage she and her husband witnessed as a power company crew drove machinery across an old small cemetery.  The couple went through many channels in an attempt to stop the desecration.  The power company employees were only doing what they were told. The execs didn’t care, nor did the local sheriff’s office. After repeated attempts to deal with the authorities, the couple called 911 and reported a crime in progress according to Code of Virginia, section 18.2-127. They were stalled again.  Hence the call to Professor Rainville.

Many early African American cemeteries were not recorded and Professor Rainville set out to change that. Her book describes her journey to locate and document these cemeteries, but also describes how enslaved people held funerals, their rituals, the role of churches and worship. 

She shares stories of how genealogies and oral histories helped her locate several cemeteries, and how finding these burial grounds helped to connect communities and families again. And then the threat ongoing development poses to these small cemeteries.

I highly recommend this book. The back of the book has a form for evaluating an old cemetery and the stones therein. The process is relevant to preserving any abandoned cemetery.

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