Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cemeteries, abandoned.

I found an article and video today from WESH titled Citizens Upset over Abandoned Graveyard. The brief articles mentions the plight of Hilltop Cemetery, a predominately African American cemetery in Cocoa, FL. The cemetery is suffering from neglect, with vaults collapsing and exposing human remains. The story really isn't that different from others I've heard up and down the coast - an African American cemetery in ruins, ownership of the land is unclear, and no maintenance is done. It seems to happen for a variety of reasons. In the South, land ownership by African Americans was rare in the 19th century. Slavery, a depressed economy after the Civil War, and laws which made it difficult for African Americans to own land.
In the case of these African American cemeteries, it seems that the land for the cemetery was either provided by a sympathetic landowner, was land that had been used for a slave cemetery, or sometimes the African American community managed to buy plots of land for use as cemeteries. No matter how the land was acquired, ownership is commonly unclear, city maintenance is non-existent, and following the migration of many African Americans from the south to urban areas in the northern part of the US many cemeteries were abandoned, or at least semi-abandoned, simply because there was no one left to care for them.
As a result, these cemeteries become abandoned, forgotten, and fall in disrepair. These cemeteries represent an important turning point in African American history. Many of these cemeteries which were founding in the late 19th century may be the first instances of families really being free to decide how they will bury and commemorate their loved ones. As such, there are unique expressions in the form of markers made of locally available material, unique decorations, and a sense of "make do" that illustrates the resourcefulness of a people who were now free in law, but suffering under few economic opportunities and increasingly hostile "Jim Crow" laws. As such they should be viewed not only as cemeteries, but as historic sites preserving the heritage of African Americans. Sphere: Related Content

No comments: