By LAUREL HUSTER
During the African American Heritage Museum’s annual cleanup on June 29, Cliff Fisher and Monique Bentley found what they believe to be four headstones that are part of the slave cemetery on the grounds.
Fisher is the president of the African American Alliance, and Bentley is the vice-president. Bentley said she was raking some leaves next to the museum and found a large flat rock that resembled a headstone.
“I got goosebumps when we found them, I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Until they found these four headstones, there had only been one headstone found on the property. The headstone was for a boy named Charlie Burch and was engraved to show that he was three months old when he died in 1869.
The headstone is on display in the museum because it had been vandalized, and the Alliance wanted to preserve it, according to Bentley.
The four headstones found recently aren’t engraved, which Bentley said was typical for slave cemeteries. She said that slaves could not afford to have a headstone engraved for their loved ones, so they would use a large flat rock if they could.
“I was so surprised when we found them. They’re right next to the house,” Fisher said.
The four stones were found close together next to the museum, which surprised both Fisher and Bentley. The cemetery was known to be across from the museum, but they weren’t expecting to find headstones on the same side of the drive as the museum.
Beside the stones, the depressions in the ground around them was another possible indicator that there are graves, because they resemble depressions that are in the cemetery across from the museum.
Fisher said he was thankful that they hadn’t moved ahead with plans to put in a garden next to the museum.
The museum has one of the largest confirmed slave cemeteries in the Southeast, with what had been an estimated 249 unmarked graves, according to Bentley. Now, that possibly four more were found, that number could increase.
Bentley said that Jeffery Glover, an associate professor of archaeology at Georgia State University who specializes in community archaeology, will be working on a project at the cemetery with one of his master’s classes in the fall.
Glover met with Bentley and Fisher on June 21 to see the cemetery himself and make plans for the project. His class will use ground penetrating radar so they can get a better estimate of how many graves there are on the property, according to Bentley.