Why Charleston, South Carolina celebrates May 4th

Stephen Nartey October 15, 2022
Anson burial ground/Photo credit: Post and Courier

It was a clarion call to the city authorities of Charleston, South Carolina to give the remains of 36 enslaved Africans a befitting burial. Half pennies minted in 1773 which were placed on the eyes of one of the remains gave a sense of the remains being buried during 1760 and 1790. 

The graves had no inscription of the period of death nor were their names, pointing to the fact they were enslaved of African descent. According to Gaillard Center, since 2017 cultural anthropologist Dr. Ade Ofunniyin, there have been conscious efforts by the Gullah Society to have the memories of these 36 Africans to be honored. 

But, before then, a crack team of archaeologists was assigned to investigate the remains to enlighten the African-American community about the ancestry of the 36 remains, which came to be known as Anson Street Ancestors, according to science. 

The archaeologists explained that the remains were properly buried because they were placed in rows. Many of them were covered in cloth and dressed, quite reminiscent of the burial of the deceased in Africa. 

The researchers found out that two of the remains, possibly men, were buried with pipes. The findings showed a link to West African burial rites such as placing coins on the eyes of the deceased and polishing of their teeth.

After the analysis of the DNA details of the remains, a durbar was held to plan activities ranging from naming ceremonies to art exhibitions to immortalize the lives of the 36 ancestors. May 4th was set aside to commemorate the lives of the 36 enslaved Africans with drumming, pouring of liberations, masquerade and erection of a vault to preserve their history.

In 2013, the remains of the enslaved Africans were dug during excavations to prepare the ground for the renovations of the Gaillard Center. Relics associated with the remains pointed out that they were buried in the 18 century and worked as slaves in South Carolina.

Analysis of the remains showed some of the buried were children, women and men who were either abducted or transported to Charleston. The researchers found out that six of the 36 were born in Africa, 29 were Africans who were residents of Low County and one was a native of American ancestry.

According to the Post and Courier, a fountain is set to be erected to institutionalize the memory of the 36 enslaved Africans in the Charleston Gaillard Center. North Carolina-based artist Stephen Hayes Jr is responsible for designing the memorial to honor the lives of the 36 people.

Mayor John Tecklenburg was of the view that the fountain will be a moving tribute to the memory of the ancestors and serve as a bridge between the past and present.

It is expected that their memorial will have 36 pairs of hands cast in bronze around the rim of a concrete basin with themes of depression and working in the soil near the Anson Street burial ground.

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