Brief for 10/17

Black Deaths Matter and Reclaiming History, One Grave at a Time Brief

The authors of the two articles, Black Deaths Matter and Reclaiming History, One Grave at at Time expose the issue of black cemeteries that have been left uncared for across America. They both mention how white cemeteries have been protected and maintained whereas black cemeteries have been breeding grounds for the accumulation of trash, junk, and overgrown forage. Providing a local connection, the authors use two cemeteries in Richmond, East End and Evergreen, to help exemplify the problem. I previously had not heard much about this issue which not only made these articles very interesting, but also made me realize how much racial inequality still exists although people are not as overtly racist as they were previously. It makes me wonder if these types of issues would be more difficult to solve since they exist in society in more complex ways than before.

The authors both talk about the injustices that have lead to this problem. One of the issues was the unequal distribution of resources. The author of Black Deaths Matter, Seth Wessler, writes “the underlying problem is that black cemeteries have been left without the resources to operate” whereas “memorials to white lives are left in trust, padded with private and public wealth” (Wessler 11). Black cemeteries without funding easily become overgrown forests while white cemeteries remain well cared for. Ultimately this reminded me of our discussions from class about social structures in society that decide how resources are distributed. Who in these structures gets to decide who receives these resources and why can’t the distribution of these resources be easily changed? Aside from the distribution of resources, another issue that has exacerbated the problem in black cemeteries is the consistent neglect in identifying these cemeteries as a problem. Wessler notes, “In death, black victims of American violence, even in one of America’s most segregated places, can rest beside white bodies. Their grandparents, however, lie buried on weeds and trash” (Wessler 7). Although black people have begun to bury their family members in white cemeteries that are well cared for, it does not eliminate the fact that their grandparents are still not receiving the respect that they deserve. These problems tend to be forgotten which reminds me of our class discussions. We cannot simply erase or forget about those that were mistreated and forget about color, we need to understand these racial injustices and work towards solutions to fix them.

In addition to the injustices that cause the problem, the authors talk about the solutions currently in place. Wessler writes that there can only be two solutions “1) families step up to the plate and ensure that their ancestors grave sites are well cared for or 2) an enormous amount of money…becomes available to clear, clean, and restore the cemetery” (Wessler 17). I thought it was interesting how people see this as the only solution to address the issue. It is either the family’s responsibility or someone has to raise a large sum of money. The possibility of the government funding some of this money – like they provide for white cemeteries – never comes up as an option. The authors of the other article, Brian and Erin Palmer, even address this noting, “Public funds are earmarked for certain groups to care for Confederate graves, including more than 2,000 at neighboring Oakwood Cemetery, under section 10.1-2211 of the Virginia state code. Perhaps a similar arrangement could be made to honor the formerly enslaved and their descendants, thousand of whom are buried at East End” (Palmer 3). Lastly, Wessler mentions how cemeteries can be restored after being regarded as a national historic site, like Greenwood cemetery with Dred Scott for example. This makes me question if someone hadn’t found the grave for Dred Scott would the cemetery have been cleaned up? Why is it only because of a historical figure? Doesn’t everyone deserve the same treatment?

Overall the problem with cemeteries in America is large. It is important to learn about these issues and raise awareness as some of them tend to be forgotten about. Although the authors mentioned some solutions to this problem, it is also important to learn about this in order to better address ways to fix it. This in a way leads to the imagination battle – how can we imagine a better future and what would it look like? Discussion is one way to come up with solutions that could address problems like the black cemeteries.



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