To inspire others and guide their journey of discovery through the collection, documentation, and preservation of historic and culturally significant spaces.
The discovery of lost African American cemeteries has opened pathways for communities to contribute to current research on equity and expand the framework of the African American experience through preserving and interpreting African-American cemeteries. This road of reclamation has connected a growing community of friends with amazing stories and shared memories. Our gratitude for these everlasting bonds is immeasurable.
“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 the individual) and placing our burials with the head towards the rising sun in the east.
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 African Cemetery, the resting place of two of our great-great-grandparents. It’s a dynamic journey that is enriching our lives tremendously.
“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.”
– Unknown Author
Reclamation of Cemetery and Community
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 disproportionately serious health challenges experienced by African Americans today. The adversity and ongoing trauma also help explain some of our community’s ongoing socioeconomic 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.
Friends of Pierce Chapel African Cemetery
Remembrance Project at Pierce Chapel African Cemetery
- Henriette Cain, Chief Genealogist, Sunco Family & Public Records
- Dr. Charles Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, and Director of the Public History Program, History Department at North Carolina Central University
- Debra Taylor Gonzalez-Garcia, Association of Professional Genealogists
- Earl Ijames, Archivist & Curator, Historic Preservation at North Carolina Museum of History
- Carlos Williams, Director, Creative Service, WRBL Channel 3 News
- Stella M. Pierce, Ed.D., Genealogist, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc.
- Frank Wilson, Regional Director, The Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network
Pierce Chapel African Cemetery
Rehobeth Baptist Church
Buffalo Soldiers Columbus Georgia
Harris County Men’s Club
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
African-American Cemetery Coalition
Concrete & Masonry
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.