Should development be stopped to preserve African-American cemeteries?

WHEN CHARLOTTE TROUP LEIGHTON first looked around her house, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, she was drawn to the small wooded meadow that lay behind it. Brambly and overgrown, it formed a picturesque buffer between the house and the thundering multi-lane Capital Beltway beyond. Looking closer, she saw it was dotted with small stones, some engraved by hand, and periwinkle, which is often planted as a ground cover in cemeteries. Though it was not listed, it was an African-American cemetery, established by former slaves in the 1890s.

America has innumerable old African-American burial grounds that have been largely forgotten. The one at the back of Ms Troup Leighton’s garden, which she is now trying to protect from a plan to widen the highway, was established by Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88, the local chapter of a benevolent society set up by former slaves after the civil war. During segregation, it used members’ fees to provide services, from care of the ill and destitute to education and burial. Along with a meeting hall, the foundations of which are still visible, and a church, it formed the heart of a tight-knit black neighbourhood known as Gibson Grove, named after Sarah Gibson, who was enslaved in Virginia before buying land that she donated to the community. She is one of at least 80 people thought to be buried in the...

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