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Becca Hopkins, Katie Coleman, Mark Cotham, Megan Vestal

Group 4/D


Arkansas Archaeological Survey. Gone to a Better Land: A Biohistory of a Rural Black Cemetery in the Post-Reconstruction South. United States of America: 1985. Print.


This archaeological survey discusses a Black cemetery in Arkansas, describing the cultural, biological, and material traits of each grave, and then summarizing the findings as a whole. It is highly detailed, and includes many pieces of information regarding the cultural and religious significance of objects found in each grave. There are quite a few graphs that analyze data, pictures of objects found in the graves, and pictures and maps of the cemetery in general. Some of the cultural information could be useful as we try to piece together a patchwork of information regarding burial practices of African Americans. However, questions must be raised as to how representative this cemetery is of the general southern African-American community, and whether or not Arkansas burial practices would be significantly different from those of Texas.


Davidson, James M. “Keeping the Devil at Bay: The Shoe on the Coffin Lid and Other Grave Charms in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-century America”. International Journal of Historical Archaeology. Springer Science+Business Media, 2010. 614-649. February 22, 2011. Web.


This article examines the burial practice of leaving a shoe on the lid of a coffin, its origins, specific instances of it, and the implications this has for African American burial practices in general. As examples of the practice, he uses three different cemeteries: one in Philadelphia, one in Dallas, and one in Arkansas. The analysis goes in depth into specific instances of the practice, tracing the origins, and the religious implications of this practice. This article is exactly what our group is looking for! It is especially helpful that it addresses the dichotomy of European origins versus African origins, because this is a particularly pertinent question when discussing burial practices of African Americans. I hope to find more articles like this one.

Hildebrand, Jennifer. “Dere were no place in heaven for him, an’ he were not desired in    hell:”    Igbo Cultural Beliefs in African American Folk Expressions.” Journal of   African American History. 91 (2). Spring 2009, 127-152. Print.

Hildebrand’s essay analyzes the ways in which Igbo-descended people and other Africans were forced to blend together their own native cultures as well as the European-American cultures they were exposed to and how this syncretism created new ethnic identities. Hildebrand focuses largely on how oral traditions such as stories, songs and phrases passed from generation to generation as the best way to pass along information since enslaved people were, for the most part, illiterate. Hildebrand’s essay will likely not be one of our most-used sources because she focuses, for the most part, on African American traditions before the Civil War, however we have discussed an interest in looking at how traditions, rituals and beliefs may have translated from Africa to more modern traditions. In the sense that we want to also acknowledge the roots of practices before the time period we’re most interested in, it might be useful to keep Hildebrand’s work in mind.

Jamieson, Ross W. “Material Culture and Social Death: African-American Burial Practices.” Historical Archaeology. 29 (1995): 39-58.

This article highlights the main cultural practices of the African American burial ceremonies.  In a way, this article gives us an example of what life would have been like in order to have produced or maintained these practices. Using an archeologists research in an African Burial Ground in New York City, Jamieson concludes that although their bodies were being caught in captivity, their culture remained in tact from their voyage from Africa. This article will be of unimaginable help to us in our own research as it gives an overview and details of several different rituals. However, this article focuses on the New England experience; we must therefore assume that it was similar in the South.


Rainville, Lynn. “Home at Last: Mortuary Commemoration in Virginian Slave       Cemeteries.” Markers. 26. 2009, 54-83. Print.

In this article, Rainville discusses her research and experiences attempting to discover slave cemeteries in Virginia and document the various ways in which the graves are memorialized. Rainville spends a large portion of the article describing how to recognize or distinguish slave cemeteries from surrounding areas through both professional tests and less technically advanced methods. Although Rainville’s article deals specifically with Virginia, this article could be significant to our group’s research both in terms of information regarding recognizing unmarked cemeteries as well as an interesting segment of the article which describes several different ways in which the dead were honored through objects and practices. Rainville specifically addresses burial rites and objects which could be observed from above ground for what she describes as “ethical purposes,” which could also add an interesting facet to our group’s work.


Rankin-Hall, Lesley M. A Biohistory of 19th-Century Afro-Americans: The Burial Remains of a Philadelphia Cemetery. United States of America: 1997. Print.


As the title suggests, this book analyzes the remains of an African American cemetery in Philadelphia from the nineteenth century. The book heavily emphasizes the biological component of the survey, and most of the book discusses various diseases, indications of nutrition (or lack thereof), cause of death, and indications of stress. It seems to provide an interesting framework for allowing us to understand the lives of the community being studied. However, there are two things that prevent this from being a useful text. First, this is not even a southern community, much less a Texan community, and therefore is highly removed from the black experience in Texas. Second, there is little to no discussion of burial practices; all that is discussed pertains to the cultural implications of biological factors in the lives of the subjects, not in their deaths.

Old Georgetown Cemetery headstone. Personal Photograph by Rebecca Hopkins. 18 Jan.             2011.


This is a photograph we took of a hand carved headstone. The woman’s name is Nancy A. Johns and she died on 8 Nov 1901. Her name is recorded on the Old Georgetown Website. We feel that this source allows us to see personally some of the traditions that took place surrounding burials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


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