“Periwinkle, Yucca, and Cedars.”
“Look for these when you return, my beloved child, and you will find my resting place.”
Many African American parents echoed these words when their adult children left their Black Belt homes, migrating north in search of better lives. The plantings they mention represent just one of our burial ground traditions; others include intermingling the bodies of different family members (reflecting the importance of community over individual) and placing our burials with the head towards the rising sun in the east.
Although many of our customs have been largely forgotten today, ours is a culture with rich traditions. Most are a blend of our history: our African roots, our condition as enslaved Americans, and the adversity we’ve faced as free people.
Learning and honoring those traditions now can provide a powerful form of community healing, a positive and active testament to the fact that despite all adversity, we stand.
Recent discoveries of forgotten or bulldozed African American cemeteries throughout the U.S. have opened these pathways for community discovery. At the Hamilton Hood Foundation, we have personally experienced this as we’ve discovered and begun restoring the historic Pierce Chapel Cemetery, resting place of two of our great-great-grandparents. It’s a dynamic journey that is enriching our lives tremendously.
Reclamation of Cemetery and Community
As we proceed today, we are creating a model with the hope of empowering others to come together, make their own discoveries, and honor their past. This reclamation of ancestral history can help our communities heal some of the challenges that naturally come when we don’t understand or acknowledge our past. Gaining clarity can heal wounds that had been left to fester.
Knowing where we came from connects us to the reality of who we are now and can help us make the best choices for moving forward. It’s estimated*, for example, that “nearly one out of every three enslaved children died before adulthood.” Connecting the dots, it’s clear that as African Americans, our great-great grandparents likely suffered from life-long malnourishment and trauma. Since that experience is reflected in our DNA, it’s most likely affecting our health and even our emotional well being.
Two examples. Our ancestors’ malnourishment helps explain, in part, the disproportionally serious health challenges experienced by African Americans today. The adversity and ongoing trauma also help explain some of our community’s ongoing socio-economic challenges. Connecting our dots – making sense of how we have come to where we are today – gives us the clarity we need to grow and thrive.
Historic Pierce Chapel African American Cemetery
Leadership Council | Friends of Pierce Chapel African American Cemetery
Advisors | Remembrance Project at Pierce Chapel African American Cemetery
Research, Historical and Genealogical Studies
John L. Sconiers III
Sconiers Funeral Home
Sunco Family & Public Records
Sconiers Funeral Home
Dr. J Aleem Hud, Ph.D.
African Studies, University Michigan Ann Arbor
Columbus Black History Museum
Archivist & Curator
Historic Preservation at North Carolina Museum of History
Director, Creative Service
WRBL Channel 3 News
Stella M. Pierce, Ed.D.
Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc.
The Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network
Community Partners | Pierce Chapel African American Cemetery
Rehobeth Baptist Church
Rev. Charles Graddick
Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Ronald Golden
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These historic cemeteries are an important part of the community’s cultural landscape, as they tell the story of Americans who were an integral part of building our community.
We have a responsibility to ensure that the humanity of our ancestors is honored and reflected in a dignified burial ground that is recorded and archived, as their narrative should be a central part of our history.
We can learn a lot from historic cemeteries and burial grounds, as artifacts, markers, headstones, and plants can help us to understand the daily lives of our ancestors, religious beliefs, and customs.
Anyone dedicated to the preservation of historic sites.