This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, October 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
Saving and Preserving Burial Grounds of Enslaved African Americans by Sandra A. Arnold and Michael L. Blakey
Development of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans began from independent research conducted by Sandra Arnold (Fordham University) after she discovered the burial site of her enslaved ancestors. Her research revealed that burial grounds of the enslaved hold valuable genealogical and anthropological findings which can provide important information about the life and culture of enslaved African Americans. It also revealed that most enslaved burial sites are overwhelmingly abandoned, undocumented, desecrated by developers and lack proper memorialization. Her work concluded that as these burial grounds disappear from our landscape, an entire population of people are at risk of being lost in the American consciousness, taking with them history and heritage.
Operating from the premise that all burial sites are sacred, the mission of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans is to locate and identify burial grounds of enslaved African Americans in the United States. We are developing a digital archive that will record these sacred sites by collecting and storing pertinent information through online submissions provided by descendants, property owners, churches, community organizations and concerned citizens. The project website began taking submissions on February 1, 2013. To date, it has received over 100 entries of burial grounds throughout the Unites States containing thousands of individual graves.
A primary goal of the Project is to create a publically accessible national burial registry to assist those who continue to search for lost members of their ancestry, as well as advocate for preservation and protection of the burial sites. The collective impact of such a registry will serve as a valuable research tool to scholars, historians and institutions interested in reconstructing the history of American slavery. Most importantly, it will bring into national focus a lasting memorial for the enslaved population.
Sandra Arnold is founder and principal developer of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans (www.vanishinghistory.org). She became interested in the study and preservation of American slave burial grounds after the discovery of a plantation cemetery containing graves of her enslaved ancestors. The Burial Database Project was created from independent research she developed from that discovery, which included contributions from four early presidential estates. She is a staff member in the Department of African and African American Studies and the Latin American and Latino Studies Institute at Fordham University, where she received her B.A. in history. Her research and interests include American Slavery, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and documentary filmmaking. Prior to joining the staff at Fordham she worked in the film and media industries, and also had a rewarding career as an Artist Management Consultant to jazz artists. Currently, she is completing a film about a planation cemetery in Tennessee before beginning her graduate studies in history and anthropology.
Michael Blakey received a B.A. at Howard University and the M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He was on the faculties of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Medicine at Howard University between 1982-2001 during which time he also held appointments as visiting professor at Spelman College, Columbia University, Brown University and the Universita di Roma, La Sapienza. He founded the W. Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory and served as Curator of its collections at Howard. He held an appointment as Research Associate in Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution from 1986-1994 and served as President of the Association of Black Anthropologists, 1987-1989. Blakey has been a member of the faculty of the College of William and Mary since 2001 as the National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology, while holding a joint Professorship in American Studies. He is founding Director of the Institute for Historical Biology at that university. Professor Blakey served as Scientific Director and Principal Investigator of the New York African Burial Ground Project from 1992 until the conclusion of research in 2004. He is currently a member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the Mall. Mr. Blakey has consulted in the development of many museum exhibitions including the recent traveling exhibition “Race: are we so different” created by the American Anthropological Association and the Interpretive Center of the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan, New York City. His publications in the leading anthropological journals concern paleopathology, historical demography, race and racism, biocultural anthropology, museum studies, and the history and philosophy of science. Blakey has advanced theories on relationships between human biology and culture, epistemology and ethics, and ideology and archaeology. He received the Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, from the City University of New York in 1996 and the Centennial Medal of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2008, among other honors.