Fordham University is launching a project to create a database today which lists the burial grounds of enslaved African-Americans in the United States.
Sandra Arnold, a history student in Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, has been leading the ambitious project, reports Fordham University’s eNewsroom.
Irma Watkins-Owens, Ph.D., is the co-director and an associate professor of history and African-American studies at Fordham. The two are working closely with advisers from several other American universities, including Emory, Yale, and the College of William and Mary.
“The burial grounds of the enslaved are sacred spaces; they mark their place in the world and are a testimony to the humanity of a people denied dignity in life,” said Watkins-Owens in an interview with eNewsroom. “We must remember, recover and restore these spaces. Doing so is a testimony to our own humanity.”
The idea for the database came when Arnold discovered the plantation cemetery where here ancestors had been buried in her home state of Tennessee. Arnold had the opportunity to visit the site where her great-grandparents had been laid to rest in 2003. Her great-grandfather, B. Harmon and his wife, Ethel, were former slaves.
“I went out there, and it was just breathtaking,” Arnold said of the burial site. “It’s an island in a cotton field, at the end of a field road.”
In a statement to theGrio, Arnold said:
“Burial grounds and cemeteries serve as monuments that remind us of the history, identity and place of a people. Most enslaved African Americans are buried in unmarked or abandoned graves all over the United States, forcing their disappearance from the American landscape. As they vanish, they take with them heritage and history. Rescuing them from obscurity, we not only properly memorialize enslaved African Americans; we mark their place in the world. With the support of descendants, property owners, churches and local organizations, the Burial Database of Enslaved African Americans seeks to identify, document and memorialize these men, women and children.”
The new database could impact thousands of Americans, and has potential that Arnold calls “immeasurable.”
“Not only can it properly memorialize the enslaved, it can also facilitate a mutual and respectful dialogue about a subject that is still very sensitive to many.”
Click here to visit the project’s official website.
Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals.