Jun 23, 2021

The Race to Save African-American Cemeteries From Being ‘Erased’

Frank Washington was making preparations to bury his aunt in a small family cemetery in the historic Virginia community of Thoroughfare when he found a gate barring access to the graveyard.

The town, an hour west of Washington, D.C., dates back to the 1800s, when it was settled by freed slaves and Native Americans. Small burial grounds are scattered throughout the area – some still in use, some forgotten entirely.

The ownership legalities behind many of these plots can be fuzzy, Washington said, but the discovery a few months ago of the gate belonging to a nearby brewery that owns access to the property still came as a shock.

“The deeds are so old that it’s hard to find some of these things,” Washington said.

“Most of these were family sites, and (ownership) was not documented the way it was for those who weren’t people of color,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

When Washington and other residents decided to look into the situation with other cemeteries in town, they found one bulldozed and more under threat, and also rediscovered several others.

The sense of crisis in Thoroughfare echoes a growing urgency across the country to stop the destruction of African-American burial grounds, said Kelley Fanto Deetz, co-CEO of the History, Arts and Science Action Network.

“People are absolutely starting to realize that these kinds of historical injustices need to be addressed now. So there is a change coming,” she said.

You can read the full story by Carey L. Biron and published in Reuters at:

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