Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Love Cemetery: Restoring Access to a Slave Cemetery

Lovecemetery_2 Just read China Galland's charming Love Cemetery, which has just appeared from HarperCollins.  It  combines just about all of my interests, for it is a story about an African American cemetery in East Texas (that dates to the 1830s), which a community pulled together to clean up from 2003-06.  Garland links the account of the clean-up with her exploration of the community's history with taking land from some of its black residents.  Ah, cemeteries and land loss, memory and reparation.  Now those are some topics I'm interested in!

Here's the description from HarperCollins:

Love Cemetery is the story of one woman trying to come to terms with racism––on both personal and public levels. When China Galland visited her childhood hometown in east Texas, she learned of an unmarked cemetery for slaves––Love Cemetery. Her ensuing quest to reclaim the ground, to mark it, unearths racial wounds that have never completely healed.

Research into county historical records and interviews with local residents in Harrison County––at one time the largest slave–owning county in Texas––led Galland to the discovery of Love Cemetery, an African–American communal burial ground that the local community had been locked out of for forty years. Research became activism as she helped organize a grassroots, interracial committee, made up of local religious leaders and lay people, to work on restoring community access to Love.

Metaphorically, Love Cemetery is only one example of a much larger body of unearthed history. The author presents material that reaches back to the time of slavery and post–civil war Reconstruction, of lynchings and "landtakings" (the theft of land from African Americans). Love Cemetery shines a light on the national legacy and shame of slavery through an inspiring story of one community's reconciliation in their united effort to mark a piece of American history. The history of Love Cemetery is the history of slavery in the United States––a history that touches us all–black or white. The message of Love Cemetery is ultimately one of tremendous hope as members of both black and white communities come together to right an historical worng, and in so doing, discover each other's common dignity.

But my favorite line in the whole book:

[I]n Texas, he land belongs to the dead; descendants have a right of access to their deceased family members, regardless of how much private property they have to cross. [41]

Ah, cemetery law!

Alfred L. Brophy
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