I’m not an archaeologist or an anthropologist or a preservationist, and I’ve studied history, but only recently begun to engage in public history. Thus, I need to get my game up as Lane Street Project moves from dreamy rumination to real work.
I’m reading Lynn Rainville’s Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia to start. Though the landscape, material culture, and history of the Charlottesville area are quite different than those of Wilson County, Rainville’s work illustrates best practices for assessing, cataloguing, and preserving historic Black cemeteries, and I’m both taking notes and brainstorming as I read.
“Gravestones can teach us lessons in American civics as told through portraits of individuals and their communities, depicted in the details found on their headstones. The storylines in these mortuary museums illustrate national values: the worth of the individual, the primacy of the family, the depth of religious beliefs, the importance of patriotism. … They can also demonstrate some of the darker aspects of our shared past, the legacies of slavery and segregation. Cemeteries are instructional spaces that, if read correctly, have much to teach us about our social and moral values and about our shared history.”
“Every place writes its own elegy before it is founded. Each beginning is an end to what has preceded it; something has always come before. So excavate your own cellar, then the ruins on top of which it was laid, and the bones beneath the ruins. Then dig some more. I may be a sentimental fool, but I can’t deny this particular truth, that it is not so simple as I would like it: paradise is ending on our watch. Then again, it is possible that this is finally true; we shall see, soon. Anyway, I am not fool enough that I would cede my right to complain loudly about what has been stolen from me and no one but me. I take my role as custodian of my nostalgia with a mortal seriousness. Life has supplied me with only these eyes, only this bizarre sensibility composed solely of this accretion of embarrassingly personal, minor events that has solidified into the unshapely mass called ‘me.’ None of us lives in the same world. Seven billion planets, not one, currently revolve around the sun in the third place of the solar system. They told you wrong in school. …”
“… These things that happened years ago and don’t matter to anyone are long-gone wind and rain. Ephemeral, meaningless. But they amount to forces that shaped the rocky earth and waterways (the buildings and institutions and beliefs and histories) that made me. Guard against its theft, the past of the place that made you. At least notice it, if you cannot save it.”
Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home (2006).
I happened upon my old Tumblr account this morning, which I basically abandoned about five years ago. I posted the passage above in maybe 2011, years before I created Black Wide-Awake, and it just kind of waited for me to step into my purpose.