Preserving African American burial grounds

2 NEWS Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (WDTN) – Many historic African American burial grounds are lost to history, forgotten or ignored, or even paved over for parking lots. Two lawmakers are trying to reclaim that history for future generations.

Mary Belcher and a team of volunteers have documented nearly 8400 African Americans buried in an undeveloped land.

“This cemetery has so many stories. So many personal stories of why we are who we are right now in the district of Columbia and the nation,” she says.

Belcher says they’re lucky they found the artifacts, or these remains might have been erased from history like so many others

“African American cemeteries disappeared under office buildings. They got covered over by parking lots,” she said.

In North Carolina, residents believe they found a burial ground for slaves near a booming housing development.

Federal lawmakers want to see these sacred grounds preserved.

Congressman Donald McEachin is co-sponsoring the “African American Burial Grounds Network Act.”

The bill would provide grants for research and restoration of the historic sites.

“There is no American history without the history of African Americans being told and this is part of the ability to tell that story,” he said. “Those gravesites that want to voluntarily enter the National Park System receive funding and help and preservation.”

Belcher is pleased with the legislation, but she says there’s more to be done.

“It’s not going to replace the hard work that communities and grassroots and organizers have to do to find and preserve cemeteries,” she says.

Supporters hope the legislation shines a national spotlight on historic African American cemeteries and ensures they are not lost forever. 

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