NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) - The next step has been taken in righting a 100-plus-year-old wrong as archaeologists searched for remains in old graves at Greenwood Cemetery.
Prior to Jim Crow days, both blacks and whites were buried at the city cemetery at Cedar Grove. Greenwood Cemetery was set up around the time of the Civil War as a separate cemetery for the black community, after which few, if any blacks found their final resting place at Cedar Grove.
In 1913, Cedar Grove - started in 1800 - was running out of space. As a solution, the city aldermen voted to disinter blacks who had been buried in the southwest corner, and resell their lots.
The bodies of 12 men and women, who had died between 1820 and 1858, were disinterred in early 1914, and then placed, along with their tombstones in Greenwood. The stones were placed in three rows of four stones each. It is not known whether the bodies were reburied individually or in a mass grave.
The situation was largely forgotten until local historian Ben Watford learned of the situation and approached the city, asking that the remains be returned to Cedar Grove.
The city has considered ways to make amends for the 1914 move, including the possibility of setting up historical markers in each cemetery telling the story.
Charles Ewen, an archaeologist with East Carolina University, was approached. He offered draw up a plan to study the plots and see in what condition the remains are.
The city approved his plan to use a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to determine the location of the bodies, followed at a later date with an actual archaeological dig.
Ewen arrived at Greenwood Cemetery on Sept. 10 in the morning with one of his Ph. D. students, Matt Harrup, to perform the first test.
Ewen said he did not expect that many of the remains will be found, as the bodies have been buried so long.
In part because of an abundance of cedar trees, local ground soil is highly acidic - not exactly ideal for the preservation of remains that have been in the ground almost 200 years. Even articles published in 1914, when the bodies were being disinterred, reported only finding an occasional skull or small portions of rotted coffins.
Still, Harrup’s GPR found a number of anomalies in the ground, four feet deep, particularly between the second and third row of markers. Ewen said the discovery definitely merits an archaeological dig that would consist of digging a trench to expose the remains and determine their condition.
ECU would not remove the bones, he said - that would have to be a decision of the city.
“I will be surprised if the bones are in good enough condition to be studied, let alone be removed,” he said. “But if they are, the city have some decisions to make.”
The actual dig will be overseen by Forensic Archaeologist Megan Perry of ECU, after which a full report will be turned over to the city.
Ewen did not know when the dig might take place, but he estimated it will be in the spring.
Information from: The Sun Journal, http://www.newbernsunjournal.com
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