Understanding History: African-American Burial Traditions

Cemeteries are a treasure trove of historic information. Names, dates, relationships, professions, property can all be gleaned by studying the gravestones and death records of those who lived long ago.

But what about historic African-American cemeteries? What sort of information can be found about the people who lie interred there?

Often precious little. That’s because many of these cemeteries lack markers and written records can be hard to find.

“A lot of African-American or minority cemeteries don’t look like others,” explains Georgette Grier-Key. “It’s a lack of stewardship in some cases, but another reason is because they were never designed to be this way.”

“People who kept records were literate, had influence and wanted to track what they owned,” she adds. “Many times the information was not there for blacks or poor people who couldn’t read.”

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