Friday, July 24, 2009

Time Team America in New Philadelphia

The most recent episode of Time Team America, an episode on New Philadelphia in Illinois, includes a short (roughly 2 minutes) view of the historic cemetery associated with the town, and a short discussion of the cemetery. The town was the first planned and established by a free African American in the United States. The property was purchased and the town laid-out by "Free Frank" McWorter. He was able to purchase the freedom of his wife, himself, and some of his children from a slave owner in Kentucky, then moved north to start a new life. It's a great episode, the history is compelling and it's a great view into what archaeology is really like. PBS is launching a new online portal where you can view full episodes of some of their shows, including Time Team America, check it out here.

Check out the links above - the Time Team site has a more in depth history of the site and Free Frank. The cemetery was particularly fascinating, although the show didn't spend a lot of time on it. It was African American only and set slightly away from the town. They make a quick reference to how African American funeral rituals were culturally distinct and important, and touch on a few theories regarding cemeteries (particularly the association with flowing water). If you'd like to know more, here's a couple of books:

Passed on: African American Mourning Stories - includes a lot of 20th century material, but also includes discussions of earlier traditions. Thought provoking - I'd never really considered the effect segregation and racism had on burials, funeral customs, and the funeral industry as a whole in both the North and South.

The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts - includes a short chapter on Vernacular or Folk grave markers, a great resource. Worth the price if you're interested in the field, but you might want to check it out in the library first. Vlach has produced several books on the subject, I don't think you'll go wrong with any of them as he seems a very solid scholar. Sphere: Related Content

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