Tomorrow afternoon, we will gather in a small room that used to be a porch at a local museum in Louisa County, Virginia. The handful of us will hear from Lynn Rainville about the key components of locating, mapping, and recording information about African American cemeteries, and then, a representative from the Department of Historic Resources will talk about how our work can help save these sacred spaces.
I am honored to be a part of the Will the Stones Whisper Their Names? Project to identify and map African American cemeteries in Louisa.
Cemeteries are special places to me, places where tiny pieces of the stories of people’s lives are captured in stone, places where the holiness of life is preserved in a world that doesn’t consider much holy anymore.
But more and more – and also since forever in this nation – the places where African American people are buried are considered less than sacred. They are forgotten, ignored, and sometimes destroyed – through intention and apathy, and if we do not take steps to save them, we will lose these places of history while also disrespecting and dishonoring the people who rest in those places.
I grew up less than a quarter-mile from a slave cemetery on the Bremo plantations where I was raised. While I did not always treat the space with the respect it deserved, I always knew it to be special. Now, it is, perhaps, my most favorite place on the earth. By grace, it is protected – with literal walls and the guarding of ancestors – and it will be there in another 100 years, I’m sure.
Other burial places, especially those where the bodies of formerly enslaved people are buried, are not as graced. They are regularly paved over, plowed through, or hidden in overgrowth and forest. People’s grandmothers and great-uncles are buried here. We all need to know of these places both as places of remembrance for families but also as places where we remember our hard, broken, beautiful, terrible history.
So tomorrow, when Dr. Rainville teaches us and we hear about how our efforts might save a few of these holy sites, I will listen carefully, both for their teaching and for the ancestors’ who whisper to us about all the stories we have not yet heard.