Understanding History: African-American Burial Traditions

Cemeteries are a treasure trove of historic information. Names, dates, relationships, professions, property can all be gleaned by studying the gravestones and death records of those who lived long ago. But what about historic African-American cemeteries? What sort of information can be found about the people who lie interred there? Often precious little. That’s because many of these cemeteries lack markers and written records can be hard to find. “A lot of African-American or minority cemeteries don’t look like others,” explains Georgette … [Read more...]

My granddad, the Bengali peddler: An African-American writer finds her roots

In 1896, almost a century before Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala caused a stir by daring to show a romance between a black man and an Indian woman in the American South, a Muslim Bengali peddler from Hooghly married a black Catholic woman from New Orleans and settled down in that city. There’s no record of how they met or what the neighbours made of them. Shaik Mohammad Musa died in 1919, a few months before his son was born. His widow Tinnie raised their three children as black and Catholic. Their Indian heritage was lost in history. Read More: My granddad, the Bengali peddler: An … [Read more...]

Fordham to Launch Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans

They lie underground, often with no marks to identify them. They’re often interred in out-of-the-way places, hidden from the public. In some cases, their neighbors are the ones they were forced to call “master.” They are deceased American slaves. And Sandra Arnold wants to find them. Arnold, a history student in Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS), is spearheading the launch of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans. Housed in and overseen by the Department of African and African American Studies, where Arnold is also a senior secretary, … [Read more...]

African-American repatriates tribal treasures through eBay diplomacy

When family researcher William Holland flies back to his ancestral homeland in Cameroon next week, he'll be bearing gifts: ceremonial masks that were taken out of Africa decades ago, purchased by Holland in online auctions, and now destined to be returned to the tribes from whence they came. It's an unusual exercise in citizen diplomacy, but one that's fitting for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — an occasion that celebrates the late civil-rights leader's legacy and encourages volunteer service. You're always supposed to give back," Holland said. "Even if you have nothing, at least try to … [Read more...]

African-American descendants sue to save Revilletown cemetery

Former residents of Revilletown—an African-American community torn down 25 years ago in Iberville Parish—are trying to preserve a cemetery founded by ancestors there in 1874. The cemetery, started by ex-slaves, is now within the grounds of a vinyl-resin plant owned by Georgia Gulf Corp., based in Atlanta. The plant is in the city of Plaquemines, 17 miles below Baton Rouge. The Mount Zion Baptist Association is exploring legal channels to maintain its original keep on the cemetery and prevent it from being swallowed by plant operations. The group says it was formed in 1874 and continues to … [Read more...]

Forgotten graves at University of Virginia likely belonged to black slaves

A piece of black colonial history may have been unearthed after a hidden grave site was discovered adjacent to the University of Virginia campus. Sixty-seven unmarked graves were found during the university’s cemetery expansion project and officials say the graves probably belonged to enslaved or post-emancipated African-Americans. Benjamin Ford, the principal investigator of the archaeological survey, told The Huffington Post that so many poorly-marked graves indicates they almost certainly hold the remains of blacks. “I just can’t imagine that we have this number of white … [Read more...]

University of Kansas showcases historic black photography online

The Leon K. Hughes Photograph Collection is a chronicle of African American family and community life in Wichita, Kansas from the late 1940s through the 1970s.  During these decades, the arrival of newcomers from nearby states and the South increased the city’s African American population from 5,623 to 26,841.  Employment in the area’s burgeoning aircraft industry and the presence of the McConnell Air Force Base fostered this growth in the community’s population and network of institutions and organizations. The leading photographer of this community’s family, church and civic events was … [Read more...]

Historic slave cemetery artifacts returned to James City

When Ben A. Watford and Earl Mills recently went to Eastern Carolina University to get duplicates of some artifacts from a slave cemetery in James City, they got much more than they asked for. Watford, who is co-chair of the James City Historical Society with Mills, said college researchers offered them an entire collection of artifacts taken from the site during a 1979 archeological dig. The two men were ecstatic and have brought home about half of what Watford said is upwards of 1,000 pieces taken near the cemetery site next to a runway at Coastal Regional Airport. In addition to … [Read more...]

Asheville’s Sasha Mitchell helps families find their roots

Sasha Mitchell was a fourth-grader in New Jersey when her class did a family history project and she innocently contributed photos of her white mother and African-American father. The response from some of her classmates was immediate and cruel. “I was called a nigger and teased and generally made miserable,” said Mitchell, who is now a happily married mother, entrepreneur and community volunteer in Asheville. That experience was followed by a memorable family talk related to a field trip that Mitchell’s younger sister’s class was planning to the Hayden Planetarium in New York, where … [Read more...]

African American history buried in unusual places

Katie Brown Bennett was whirling through reel after reel of microfilm when she found her great-great-grandfather Squire Cheshier. It was not a birth certificate that genealogists love to get their hands on. It was an 1843 bill of sale. Squire had been sold for $525 to Tennyson Cheshier. “I will remember that moment forever. I knew about slavery conceptually, had studied it in school. But here he was 27, probably sold away from family. When I saw that, all I could do was cry.” Since then, Bennett has found a wealth of information, including her father’s line of Joneses on a 1772 … [Read more...]