Saturday, January 10, 2009

African American Grave Marker

Yes, Scott and I toiled at the St. Nicholas cemetery in St. Mary's County yesterday. We were working along the southeastern edge of the cemetery where we expected to recover markers for African American graves.

Around mid-morning, we spoke to a journalist who works for The Tester, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station's newspaper. We explained to her that African Americans in Southern Maryland often made their own grave markers from inexpensive, and often highly expressive, form of mortuary art that freed them from dealing with suspect European American retailers and tradesmen. Not long after she left, Scott and I turned up a headstone that looked very much like a marble tablet set on a marble base; but instead of two pieces, there was only one. It was in fact a homemade marker cast as a single piece of concrete. We also found a matching footstone made the same way.

Such do-it-yourself markers contribute to the difficulty in finding African American cemeteries. Apart from the many unmarked graves and graves marked with fieldstones, even inscribed markers--especially if broken--can pass notice of the inexperienced.



Dancing Willow said...

There are quite a few of those up at St. John's in Hollywood and at St. Joseph's in Loveville. I admire the attempt vs. leaving the grave unmarked.

Jim said...

Unfortunately, many such graves probably were marked with wooden plank markers or crosses which do not last. Short of excavation, we have to rely on our noticing patterns in depressions and field stones.

Because of the difficulty in locating them, it is my company's policy to accurately map graves and markers, and to record the locations of such cemeteries. Unfortunately, even when these cemeteries are found, the level of recording is often such as to make finding them again very difficult. We aim to change that.