Who Remembers the Forgotten Dead?

Taking the question at face value, it would seem that no one remembers the forgotten ones.  They pass into obscurity after their loved-ones die off themselves, or move on to other communities.  If they were members of a marginalized group, they may even be discarded, while in the grave, by whatever community remains around them.

I bring this to your attention, because I’ve recently been made aware of a little-known old slave and freedmen’s cemetery near to my city.  It’s closed off, and the buildings are sealed, however, an historical marker has been placed there, and the grounds are kept mowed.  But, no one visits the many, many (estimated 2000) unmarked graves.  Only six of the graves have markers, and two of those are of unknown individuals.

How terribly sad.  All those people, those families, generations of families, buried there without even their names.  And, of course, there are condos built over a section of the original site.  It just makes my heart quake with grief and anger.  So, I’m going to pay a visit to the cemetery, spend some time there just remembering those who have no one left to remember, and making offerings.

I wish I could have found an account from one of the people in the local cemetery, however, I could not, so instead I share with you an excerpt from the narrative of Mr. William Adams, of Texas, aged ninety-three years, born into slavery:

“Yous want to know and talk about de power de people tells you I has. Well, sit down here, right there in dat chair, befo’ we’uns starts. I gits some ice water and den we’uns can discuss de subject. I wants to ‘splain it clearly, so yous can understand.

“I’s born a slave, 93 years ago, so of course I ‘members de war period. Like all de other slaves I has no chance for edumacation. Three months am de total time I’s spent going to school. I teached myself to read and write. I’s anxious to larn to read so I could study and find out about many things. Dat, I has done.

“There am lots of folks, and edumacated ones, too, what says we’uns believes in superstition. Well, its ’cause dey don’t understand. ‘Member de Lawd, in some of His ways, can be mysterious. De Bible says so. There am some things de Lawd wants all folks to know, some things jus’ de chosen few to know, and some things no one should know. Now, jus’ ’cause yous don’t know ’bout some of de Lawd’s laws, ‘taint superstition if some other person understands and believes in sich.

“There is some born to sing, some born to preach, and some born to know de signs. There is some born under de power of de devil and have de power to put injury and misery on people, and some born under de power of de Lawd for to do good and overcome de evil power. Now, dat produces two forces, like fire and water. De evil forces starts de fire and I has de water force to put de fire out…”

Read Mr. Adams’ full narrative.

I think it is important that we remember our Dead.  All of our Dead. Especially those who are often left out of the official history.

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2 responses to “Who Remembers the Forgotten Dead?

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    As far back as I can remember, I have felt that the dead should be remembered, and it gave me physical pain to think of those who had been forgotten in death.

  2. This is very true – I think history had the right of it; the way to destroy someone, truly destroy them, is to forget them. Edit them out of history. Never speak their names. Bury them in an unmarked grave and turn one’s back. Here in the UK they are countless “potter’s greens” – where the poor were buried with no headstones, no remembrance. It’s part of my calling to visit these places and mark the people buried there. It needs doing.