Forgotten graves at University of Virginia likely belonged to black slaves

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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 individuals buried here without acknowledgement and marking,” he said.

Although the graves have not been officially confirmed as holding the remains of black slaves, the university has no plans to excavate or uncover the graves to assure respect for the remains, according to UVA Today.

The university is hoping that extensive historical research and documentation can lead to more information about these unidentified graves.

“Since there were no clues as to the identity of the persons buried at the site during the physical investigations, the documentary research is particularly important in helping us to understand the meaning of the discovery – and therefore, critical to deciding how best to commemorate the lives of the people buried there,” said University landscape architect Mary Hughes to UVA Today.

In fact, U.Va has been making an effort to acknowledge the use of slave labor in and around Charlottesville.

In 2007, for instance, an official apology was released in regards to the school’s use of slave labor between 1819 and 1865. This apology was inspired when the Virginia legislature also issued a statement just three months before expressing its “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery.

Just last year, U.VA also commemorated Henry Martin, an enslaved janitor and bell ringer who famously  alerted the campus of a Rotunda fire in 1895. A plaque in his name was erected marking the first commemoration of a black slave.

A complete technical report of the historical and archaeological findings on the grave site will be issued by Rivanna Archaeological Services LLC, the organization heading the survey, which will then give recommendations for its preservation.

Follow Brittany Tom  on Twitter @brittanyrtom