Lawmakers Introduce African-American Burial Grounds Network Act

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By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

Two lawmakers are adding to the growing effort to preserve African American burial grounds and continue to collect data on important aspects of Black culture and history.

The African American Burial Grounds Network Act, also known as HR 1179, was created by Rep. Alma S. Adams (D-NC) and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) in part to honor Black History month, but also to carry on the important legacy of preserving African American history.

Lawmakers such as Alma S. Adams (D-NC) are working to preserve African American burial grounds. (Courtesy Photo)

“For more than two centuries, African American cemeteries have suffered unjust abuse and neglect,” Congressman McEachin said in a press release. “African American burial grounds are an essential part of our nation’s history and deserve protection. I am proud to co-introduce this legislation, which supports the preservation and restoration of these sacred sites, including Evergreen and East End Cemeteries in my District. Descendants of those interred should be able to visit these sites to honor and remember their family members.”

The Act would accomplish a few things including creating a National Park Service program, along with local, state, private and nonprofit entities to assist people in gathering data and persevering burial sites and cemeteries within the network, according to the bills fact sheet.

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The Network would do this by:

  • Creating a voluntary, nationwide database of historic burial grounds, with the consent of the property owner, that relate to the historic African-American experience.
  • Providing technical assistance to local public, private, state and local partners to research, survey, identify, record, preserve, evaluate and interpret these burial grounds.
  • Establishing educational materials for community members, local groups and schools about African-American burial grounds
  • Making grants available for local groups to research, survey, identify, record and aid in the preservation of sites within the Network.

“Too often, the graves of African Americans have been forgotten or ignored by the communities in which they were located,” said Congresswoman Adams. “This has been a disservice to the memories of those who came before us, and to the preservation of our nation’s history. African American burial grounds are an integral part of our country’s heritage. Creating and maintaining a national network of African American burial grounds will help communities preserve local history while also better informing development decisions and community planning in growing areas like Mecklenburg County.”

The bill text stated that form 1619 to 1865 when millions of African Americans were enslaved their burials were controlled by slaveholders. Many were “confined to remote areas or marginal property,” according to the bill. To make matters worse, those sites were not often documented or show up on historical maps. Even after slavery there were restrictions placed upon African American about where they could bury loved ones and many African American sites are in need of great repair.

The Burial Grounds Act has a number of prominent endorsements from organizations like The National trust for Historic Preservation, the Society for American Archaeology, the Afro American Historical & Genealogical Society and the Save our Heritage Organization among others. Interest in these initiatives seem to be growing.

Just a few weeks ago another bill was offered, this time by Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond, VA) to add six cemeteries on a list to receive funds from the Department of Historic Resources.