What lies beneath us? Thousands of forgotten cemeteries–mostly African American–that were sold and destroyed for development exist beneath neighborhoods, stores, parks, etc all across the United States.
For my practicum project this semester I am working specifically with the Columbian Harmony Cemetery. This was a cemetery in Washington D.C. that opened in 1825 and closed in 1957 after the owners went bankrupt and had to sell it. The cemetery was the first all-black cemetery in the city and held great community value. Most of the bodies were carelessly put into a mass grave and some bodies were not moved at all after it was sold. Currently, there is a parking lot, metro station, and retail spaces on the former cemetery. The cemetery has been widely forgotten, though there are recent movements to memorialize it and the people who were interred there. Because of this project, I want to create a resource that helps people identify forgotten cemeteries.
The Columbian Harmony Cemetery is one of many cemeteries across the United States with this tragic ending. For my digital project, I am proposing a digital, interactive map of the forgotten cemeteries across the country. This map would exist on a website (it could eventually be developed into an app or even a third-party extension onto google maps). The website would feature an actual map of the United States with pins to designate where the cemeteries are located. Then a viewer could click a pin and it would zoom into the location and they would see photos of the current landscape. It would also display information about the former cemetery, such as name, the years it was opened, notable people buried there, and why the cemetery closed–if that information is available. The user would also be able to search for a cemetery by name on the website.
A comparable project is findagrave.com on this website users can search by cemetery or name to find people’s burial sites. It does not include a map and users can contribute to it so there is an ever-growing resource. My project would focus on only forgotten cemeteries and would not include a feature to search by individual person since the records for these cemeteries are usually incomplete. However, findagrave.com is a good model for my project because it has a user-friendly interface but is also a vast resource.
This project can engage a wide range of audiences. Tourists who are interested in exploring the history of the United States can use this map on their travels. Historians and archaeologists can use it for memorialization projects and as a reference for their work. Students can study the map to learn about the history of the country. Also because many of the cemeteries were majority African American the cemetery map can be used in conversations about racial injustice. Schools would be the initial target for publicizing this website. There are numerous ways to incorporate this tool into a classroom and it can be useful from elementary school through graduate school. This project will be evaluated by website usage and effectiveness. Since teachers will be the first people targeted to use the website, the developers will stay in contact with the teachers for feedback about its usage in the classroom and student feedback. As the site grows, it will be evaluated through internet traffic and historians often review sites such as the one I am proposing so those reviews will be used for feedback as well.
I am looking forward to hearing your feedback or if you know of any cemeteries that could be included in this project.