A recent discovery of a slave cemetery under a country club in Florida’s capital city Tallahassee has sparked a debate about how to honor the dead given that similar cemeteries may be discovered in the area.
Last month, 40 unmarked graves of slaves were found beneath the seventh fairway of the Capital City Country Club’s golf course through the efforts of Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, and Jeffrey Shanks, a park service archaeologist.
Hollinger is leading a campaign to rediscover and memorialize the hundreds of slave burial ground in Tallahassee. He recently contacted authorities in Tallahassee, seeking help in finding the graveyard under the golf course after doing his own research and finding an old newspaper article about it.
Collaborating with Shanks, the two used radar and cadaver-sniffing dogs to locate the graveyard, scanning 7,000 meters of ground, reports AP.
“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive,” Hollinger told the AP. “They deserve much better than this. And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”
“It’s safe to say 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,” historian Jonathan Lammers added.
Leon County was the center of Florida’s plantation economy and had the state’s highest concentration of slaves.
Before the Civil War, “three of every four county inhabitants were human chattel owned by elite white families,” according to the AP, adding that the Houstouns of Tallahassee was one such family.
The family operated a 500-acre plantation from the early 1800s through the Civil War. Developers have since transformed parcels of the land into residential buildings and strip malls.
A part of the property became the Capital City Country Club, an 18-hole golf course in Tallahassee.
“It’s fair to say that the golf course is one of the reasons why this burial ground has been preserved as well as it has for so long,” Jay Revell, the country club’s resident historian recently indicated after visiting the country club.
Shanks believes that the recent discovery is a “really serious problem” that cuts across. “It’s not just a Florida problem. It’s really a problem across the Southeast.”
Decades ago, a Florida state task force indicated that there could be as many as 1,500 unmarked and abandoned slave or African-American cemeteries across the state. Officials are looking into setting up a new taskforce to deal with the issue.
There have been talks about establishing an African American Burial Grounds Network while work has also begun on a national database to record the burial sites for enslaved Africans.
At the moment, there are no plans to exhume the remains of those buried underneath the grounds of the Capital City Country Club. Discussions on how to memorialize them, however, remain.
Hollinger would want to “reroute golf carts and fence off the area so golfers won’t tread over the graves.”
He further suggests a small memorial that will recount “the unvarnished history of the property – including how it profited from the labor of slaves,” reports the AP.