Fordham Student Sandra Arnold Creates Database to Protect Slave Burial Sites
We’ve heard lots of stories about construction workers uncovering the unmarked burial sites of slaves.
Well, Sandra Arnold has created something that might help with that problem.
Arnold, a history student at Fordham University, has created a database that allows participants to mark the burial sites of slaves:
Last month, Fordham introduced Ms. Arnold’s proposed solution, the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans, a Web portal that invites visitors to input information about the whereabouts and residents of slave graveyards across the country. The goal is to create a user-generated database of these sites all over the United States.
Though there are other similar projects, most are conducted on a regional level, or do not focus specifically on places slaves were buried. Find a Grave, a database used by many tombstone hobbyists and amateur genealogists, lists hundreds of thousands of plots, including those belonging to slaves. In 2001, in an effort to avoid disturbing burial grounds during a property boom, Prince William County in Virginia began collecting locations. There are also private initiatives in Maryland to catalog all of the estimated 6,000 to 9,000 slave burial sites in the state.
But still slave graveyards risk being trampled by time and construction. One of the most notable examples was in Lower Manhattan, where construction of a federal office building was halted in 1991 after the discovery of bones 24 feet below the surface. Just 419 bodies were discovered, though estimates of how many free and enslaved blacks were buried there range from 10,000 to 20,000. The African Burial Ground, as it was named, is now a national historic landmark.
Just last year, construction was held up for a new Walmart in Florence, Ala., after local residents protested that it would encroach on hidden burial sites.
“There is certainly a very important national need; it’s more than just an academic exercise,” said Lynn Rainville, a research professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and an adviser to the database.
For Ms. Arnold it is also personal. The idea was born two years ago after she visited a Tennessee cemetery where her great-grandfather, who was born a slave, is buried. It was adrift in the middle of a field, she said, hardly the hallowed space that cemeteries typically are. “The fact that enslaved African-Americans don’t have that sort of dignity,” she said, “it bothered me.”
The project’s ambition — to be a comprehensive database for the country — is hampered because slaves were often perfunctorily buried, and because of a historical quirk: headstones were a luxury in many Southern areas, and both enslaved and free people were often buried with plain stone markers or none at all.
Read more at the NYTimes.
This is a fantastic and vital project.
What other ways might we use technology to both document and protect our past?
Sound off below!!!!