Black family begins 200-year-old cemetery restoration

Congress is considering legislation that would create a database of Black burial sites

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In an effort to preserve Black cemeteries, Congress is considering legislation that would create a database of Black burial sites and provide funding to research and protect them.

This could assist people like CBS News Producer, Rodney Hawkins, who has taken on the task of preserving his family history after finding their family cemetery in disarray, according to CBS News.

Practically hidden by overgrowth, the 200-year-old cemetery is located in the piney woods of East Texas and is a part of America’s buried past.

“It’s tragic to see this cemetery in this state,” Hawkins said. “As painful as it can be to uncover the past, it’s important my ancestors, our ancestors are honored.”

Read More: 15 gravestones at historic Black cemetery vandalized

Hawkins was inspired to find out more about his family history this past summer, when a college professor encouraged him to get his 106-year-old great grandmother’s DNA and interview her for Hawkins’ records. His professor told him that not many Black people manage to obtain DNA samples from their elders or record their oral history. He warned Hawkins that Black people will lose the ability to track generations if we don’t take advantage of these opportunities.

“Thank God, he told me that!” Hawkins said in an exclusive interview with theGrio. “My grandmother, Elise Powell-Hurd, died a few months later. I’ll never forget her saying at the start of the interview that ‘she felt 16’ with a big smile on her face. From there, I went down a rabbit hole and what you see in the piece is just a part of the amazing history we’ve found so far.”

Old Mount GIllion Cemetery (via CBS News)

Hawkins said that the response to his story has been amazing, but what he is most impressed by is his influence on other families.

“I’m most touched by all the people that have reached out to say they are now going to look into their family history or restore the cemetery their loved ones are buried in. I hope more people become encouraged to do so,” said Hawkins.

Read More: Michelle Obama reflects on Juneteenth and family’s slavery history

“Initially, I did not think to share it outside of social media until a couple of my CBS News colleagues were inspired by it and encouraged me to share it more broadly,” he continued. “I am so glad they did! Not only do we now have a personal record of our family journey, but we are inspiring others to do the same.

Hawkins said that although he was afraid he may find some painful information in his family’s past, he realizes now that that shouldn’t stop anyone from getting to know their ancestors and learning about what they went through.

“We must honor their will and triumph to survive. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. They can’t be forgotten,” Hawkins concluded.

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