In Clemson, unmarked slave tombs highlight the past of plantations

Clemson, South Carolina (AP) — On the sloping side of the Clemson University campus cemetery, dozens of small white flags with pink ribbons once held a tailgate party outside the memorial stadium. It replaced the beer cans scattered around the stadium.

The flag was recently added to indicate the last resting place for the enslaved and convicted African-American workers who built the school and the farm in front of it. Hundreds of flags are scattered among the existing tombstones, and until recently, most visitors unknowingly stepped over their remains.

The Cemetery Hill has served as the last resting place for some Clemson faculty and trustees for almost a century. Researchers have now identified more than 600 previously unmarked African-American tombs dating back to the early 1800s.

The revelation has led Clemson to rethink the functioning of the Woodland Cemetery on campus as the university evaluates it nationwide to properly recognize the legacy of slavery and forced labor.

Ronda Thomas, a professor of African-American literature at Clemson, is a team that connects the identities of the dead in this “sacred space” and commemorates “people who have been very disgraced and despised over time.” Is leading.

“As a university, we have a responsibility to teach students and the campus community how to embrace complex, painful and awkward history. We need to start with our own history,” Thomas said in an interview. I did.

Fort Hill Plantation was founded in 1825 by John C. Calhoon. That same year he became the country’s seventh vice president. Calhorn later became a US Senator and enthusiastically defended slavery before the Civil War. His family bequeathed a plantation to South Carolina in 1888, leading to the founding of the university. The state then used convicted workers to build campuses, many of whom were arrested on minor charges to force them to work unpaid.

Thomas has spent much of his tenure to document the experience of African-Americans in college history through a project known as “Call My Name.” A related tour she designed includes a fenced area where the university relocated dozens of African-American tombs in the 1960s.

“The story tells us that Clemson is grateful for the existence of black workers. I found access to its history to be very important to the general public and to the campus community.”

Campus archives and court documents show that the school had known for decades some of the unmarked tombs beneath the hilltop where Calhorn buried his first family in 1837. I am.

A college committee recommended praising them with an oil-based pen in 1946, but nothing was set up. In 1960, Clemson was allowed by a judge to dismantle some of his remains to promote “the orderly and proper development of the campus.” The 2003 planning document states that some parts of the site may contain unmarked burial plots.

However, Clemson began a full-scale investigation last year after two undergraduates who were upset by the state of the grave approached Thomas.

Now senior Sarah Adams, after taking one of Thomas’s campus tours, is striking between the well-maintained faculty and trustee graves and the emptiness of the African-American conspiracy. He said he was distraught about the contradiction.

Thomas linked Adams and another related student, Morgan Morosso, with graveyard staff and university historian Paul Anderson, encouraging site cleaning and commemorative efforts. They secured funding from Provost’s office to search for tombs on ground penetrating radar. As of January 2021, the number increased to 667 in three searches.

“We don’t want to hide anything,” Anderson said. “We are the ones who tell the truth.”

According to a document posted online by the university, after Calhorn died in 1850, the US Census recorded 50 slaves on plantations. Invented as a fortune when his son bought Fort Hill four years later, they ranged from a 100-year-old woman named Phoebe to multiple children under the age of two. A dozen years later, near the end of the Civil War, 139 enslaved people lived on the farm.

Field stones and archived documents showed how many people were buried, but when he saw hundreds of flags scattered between the tombs of Clemson employees, Thomas was of time. Over time, he worked on evidence of the blasphemed burial ground and was speechless.

Today, touring the site requires you to roam around dozens of white circles spray-painted on the ground. In some places, tombs are paved to create sidewalks. In other areas, many flags are gathered together, which may indicate where extended families have buried the dead for generations, the researchers said.

There is no way to know if a Clemson football match is taking place on the wreckage of a slave. The construction of the stadium would have destroyed the tomb, said tour guide Dr. La Nice Littleton. However, the white circle extends into the stairs on the wall of the stadium.

Some students and faculty members say how the school treats black students and the surrounding African-American community, as the 215 unmarked tombs were first discovered during the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. We are now calling for a wider range of changes. Clemson is the second largest university in South Carolina, but only 6% of students are black and about 27% of residents are black.

Thomas suggests that compensation may be provided in the form of tuition scholarships for the offspring of people buried in the graveyard, similar to the program launched by Georgetown University in 2019.

Already, some professors have incorporated the unpleasant history of the cemetery into their lessons. The admissions guide will include it in your campus tour. Thomas also said that forced labor had formed a council of surrounding community members to help Clemson shape the monument to the men, women and children that became today.


Liu is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on unreported issues.

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