Clemson University finds over 600 unmarked graves, likely belonging to slaves, on campus

Hundreds of unmarked graves that date back to hundreds of years ago were uncovered on the Clemson University campus.

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Clemson University researchers uncovered 604 unmarked graves on campus and are working to identify and honor the people laid to rest over 100 years ago.

Read More: 15 gravestones at historic Black cemetery vandalized

Greenville News reported the graves belonged to enslaved peoples, domestic workers, sharecroppers, and convict laborers who lived, worked, and died on the university’s land in the 1800s. The gravesites were found in the on-campus Woodland Cemetery. Initially, over 200 graves were found using ground-penetrating radar. As the quest continued, 604 unmarked graves were found and thought to date back more than 200 years ago.

“Long before a university or a college campus community, this place was an African American community,” University Historian Paul Anderson said according to the news outlet.

Clemson University
(Credit: Getty Images)

In the 1920s, Woodland became the cemetery for Clemson trustees, presidents and faculty, according to the university. Before that, it was a Black gravesite according to former Clemson trustee Jim Bostic.

“Until 1924, this was an African American Cemetery,” Bostic said to Greenville News.

Woodland hosts graves for members of the Calhoun family. The Calhoun’s founded Fort Hill Plantation under John C. Calhoun before the property was turned over to the state to transform into Clemson University.

Read More: Remains found in search for 1921 Tulsa race massacre victims

Reverend James McElhaney owned the plantation before Calhoun and had at least 25 slaves, Greenville News reported. The two plantations that used to exist on the campus were near each other and researchers believe it is not far-fetched that each shared familial relationships.

“It is close enough, from a community point of view, to suspect that family or exact total can never be determined, credible evidence makes it probable that many people, likely numbering between 100-300, extended family could be buried in one place or the other,” Anderson said to the outlet.

Researchers opened the grounds for tours and were greeted by over 100 people, including local families who believed their ancestors remains were those in the unmarked graves. Dr. Rhondda Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of History at Clemson, is working with the community to unpack family histories to trace the unidentified graves to their descendants according to Greenville News.

“Clemson is uniquely positioned to tell a story that embraces multiple perspectives, over multiple eras, in ways that we’re just now really exploring and discovering… it’s not going to be the old way of talking about history…  it’s far richer than that,” Anderson said.

Recently, unmarked graves and remains were uncovered at the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. theGrio recently reported least 10 bodies were found in an unmarked mass grave at a Tulsa cemetery where investigators continue their search for the remains of victims. According to Tulsa History, the exact number of victims can never be determined but, the total is likely between 100-300.

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