A recent discovery of a slave cemetery under a country club in Florida’s capital city Tallahassee has prompted a discussion of “how to honour the dead” given that other such cemeteries may be discovered in the area, the AP news agency reports.
Earlier this month, the 40 slave graves were unearthed beneath the seventh fairway of the Capital City Country Club’s golf course through the combined efforts of Jeffrey Shanks, a park service archaeologist and Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
The discovery came after a ground-penetrating radar and two cadaver-sniffing dogs were used for at least several weeks to scan about 7,000 square meters of the golf course.
“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive. They deserve much better than this. And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era”, Hollinger, whose ancestors worked in Leon county fields in Florida, told the AP.
Shanks, for his part, pointed to the historic significance of the discovery, as many slave cemeteries in the area have yet to be accounted for.
“It’s a really serious problem. It’s not just a Florida problem. It’s really a problem across the south-east”, he was cited by the AP as saying.
Shanks was echoed by historian Jonathan Lammers who said that it was safe to assume that there are “thousands upon thousands of these graves in Leon County and hundreds and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, across the Southeast that remain unknown today”.
This view was shared by Florida Senator Darryl Rouson who told AP that local authorities plan to identify “covered-up graves that have been built upon, destroyed, or obliterated from history”.
“Once identified, we'd like to do some type of memorial for those souls”, he added.
A Florida state taskforce estimated back in the 1990s, that there might be at least 1,500 unmarked and abandoned slave or African American cemeteries across the state, some Florida lawmakers have called for the creation of a new taskforce to tackle the issue.