Even more sadly, on occasion, slave cemeteries are the targets of destruction because they stand in the way of developments or corporate parks, or simply because someone wants to “get back that land” and doesn’t really perceive the people buried there – often in largely unmarked graves – as being worth the honor of preservation. (An excellent resource on historic African American cemeteries – and how to find slave cemeteries – is Lynn Rainville’s book Hidden History.)
Over and over, slave cemeteries – and African American cemeteries in general – are neglected, destroyed, or paved over. Just consider the slave cemetery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello that was only recently marked off and commemorated. Or this cemetery in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood that was partially paved over and entirely overlooked by city planners. Tragically, I could list African American graveyard after graveyard that has been forgotten or destroyed.
This horrendous attitude and apathy toward slave cemeteries was one of the main impulses for my new book, Steele Secrets. In the story, 16-year-old Mary Steele finds herself in an abandoned cemetery that is just down the road from her house. She quickly learns that the cemetery is slated for destruction, and she needs to decide if she’ll take on the work – and the risk – of saving this place. Every bit of that part of this book is drawn from fact, from the way bulldozers rip through historic cemeteries because the people there are not remembered or revered by formal history.
It’s time we work together to save these sacred resting places for the people who built our nation through the sweat of their brow and the bend of their back.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s new book – coming on February 9th – Steele Secrets delves into these struggles as the main character, 15-year-old Mary Steele, seeks to save a slave cemetery that is part and parcel, she will soon learn, of the history in her small town. You can pre-order Steele Secrets at andilit.com/steele-secrets or at Amazon – http://amzn.to/1N9HzxM.