Lane Street Project: The work is everywhere and never ends.

“Here is how we lose these rural Black cemeteries:

1. We ignore the fact that it was illegal for enslaved people to read and write, so they weren’t going to mark their graves with people’s names. Instead, we use a lack of name-marked graves as evidence the site isn’t important.

2. We don’t recognize that enslaved and newly emancipated people had different ways of marking their graves than what was the fashion of rich white people, and instead, we call the plants and trees that were used to decorate graves ‘overgrowth.’

3. We make it impossible for people to access the cemetery, and we call it abandoned.

4. We develop over it.

Two writers recently joined the chorus of voices bearing witness to the disrespect paid historic African-American cemeteries across the eastern and southern United States.

The passage above, from Betsy Phillips’ “The Steady Erasure of Black Cemeteries,” published at nashvillescene.com on 12 December 2022, anchors a gut-wrenching piece about African-American cemeteries in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. She writes, “People and their descendants had their lives stolen from them by slavery, and now they’ve got their deaths stolen by development.”

The second piece, Seth Freed Wessler’s “Developers Found Graves in the Virginia Woods. Authorities Then Helped Erase the Historic Black Cemetery,” published 16 December 2022 by ProPublica, recounts in painful detail the connivance of local government, private archaeology firms, and Microsoft Corporation to clear out a African-American family cemetery standing in the way of a datacenter expansion.

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