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Unforgotten: Oil company preserves hidden slave cemeteries


CONVENT, La. — A major oil company is taking steps to honour once-forgotten slaves buried on its land west of New Orleans in an area where sugar plantations once abounded, an effort that some hope will grow into a larger movement to recognize and protect such cemeteries around the country.

The Shell Oil Company marked, blocked off and spruced up the tracts near its Convent refinery west of New Orleans and held dedication ceremonies in March, about five years after archaeologists confirmed the presence of slave burial grounds in 2013. The company also has been working with the nearby River Road African American Museum to arrange commemorative events and accommodate visitors.

It’s the latest example of the South’s decades-long path to acknowledging unsavoury aspects of its history.

For Kathe Hambrick, the director of the River Road museum, the work is the culmination of years of efforts to ensure that Shell honoured and remembered those buried on what used to be the Monroe and Bruslie sugar plantations, just two of many plantations that once abounded along the road. Hambrick said there are likely hundreds more such graveyards between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Some of the restored plantations are themselves undergoing a rediscovery, moving away from their romanticized “Gone With the Wind” portrayals of the past to offer a more realistic look at the South’s history of human bondage. One, the Whitney Plantation in the town of Wallace, opened in 2015 as a full-fledged museum with an unvarnished look at the cruelties of slavery.

“We ought to work together to figure out how … to evaluate the things that we want to preserve, protect and teach about in terms of how this country was really developed,” said A.P. Tureaud Jr., the son of a revered New Orleans civil rights lawyer who counts slaves and slaveowners among his ancestors.

Tureaud, who travelled from his current home in New York to attend March dedication ceremonies for the Monroe and Bruslie sites, has joined with Hambrick in an effort to give slave gravesites federal protection. The two have brought their idea to the attention of U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, whose district includes most of New Orleans.

Vincent deForest, a civil rights activist who helped preserve two slave cemeteries in Washington, D.C., said he and others are urging the Congressional Black Caucus to get involved. DeForest would like to see the National Parks Service undertake a study to identify ways to preserve such sites in every state.

“The wholeness of the living is diminished when the ancestors are not honoured,” deForest said, quoting one of his favourite epitaphs.

Sandra Arnold, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University, is leading a project to compile a database of slave burial grounds, but notes there is a dearth of records.

“It’s as if their humanity is erased,” Arnold said.

Thurston Hahn, an archaeologist with Baton Rouge-based Coastal Environments Inc., said it’s reasonable to believe many of the slave graveyards along the River Road have been farmed over or covered by levees …read more

Source:: Nationalpost

      

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