African American Cemeteries

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After the Civil War, freed slaves began at once to establish their own communities and churches. During the years before the Civil War, slaves were often buried in a designated place beyond family plots so that tombstones marking their graves are rare. Often only field rocks or wooden crosses, which soon decayed, marked their graves.

Many tombstones are made and inscribed by hand. This does not necessarily mean that people were too poor to afford more elaborate markers. Rather, the use of temporary markers of stones, wood, or shells ensures that the cemetery is always available, never full, and people can always be buried with their kin. Elaborate markers are rare in black cemeteries and may indicate customs based on religious beliefs or an acceptance of death that is realistic and cannot be relieved by spending sums of money on markers--particularly when the living may be in need.

African-American cemeteries are not landscaped as Euro-American cemeteries are. They have depressions or mounds and no attempt is made to make grass grow over the graves nor to create special vegetation. Trees are native, not specially planted, and are neither encouraged nor discouraged. Rather than the park-like setting with formal landscaping often found in Euro-American cemeteries, the African-American cemetery does not attempt to romanticize death nor create an artificial landscape.

Family plots do not traditionally exist in African-American cemeteries and placement of graves seems rather random. You will see many indentations and mounds that do not have markers. The markers may have disappeared over time or graves may never have been marked. While black cemeteries may appear to be neglected, this is often not the case at all, but is a reflection of a philosophy of death and burial.

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