Hidden Black Cemetery Discovered In North Carolina

Unclaimed land that is owned by neither the government nor a private entity has been discovered in the eastern North Carolina town of Ayden, and it contains more than 400 graves, some of which are believed to be those of enslaved African Americans.

The nearly three acres of land does not show up on tax records in the town of nearly 5,000 people — but is known to elder people living in the community as an abandoned Black graveyard.

According to the News Observer, an investigation has been launched by East Carolina University into mapping the land, logging the surviving grave markers and using ground penetrating radar to find the borders.

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Charles Ewen of East Carolina’s Phelps Archaeology Laboratory says work began several weeks ago and the discoveries have been surprising.

“There are nearly 400 graves in the cemetery, the majority of which are simple unmarked depressions in the earth,” Ewen told the News Observer. “It is the largest abandoned cemetery I have encountered. I have investigated over two dozen cemeteries in the past two decades. … You can drive by it and not even know it’s there.”

The earliest marked grave is from around 1908 and the most recent is from 1963, says Ewen, who added that the ground penetrating radar will be used in the fall.

The cemetery project is expected to be a three-year project and include interviews with people who have loved ones buried in the cemetery. Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation are funding the work, the News Observer reports.

Ewen says abandoned Black cemeteries have received growing interest among anthropologists, who label them “forgotten parts of the landscape” and casualties of the segregation era. Experts hope to find “patterns of abandonment and their causes.”

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