Newest marker for African-American Heritage Trail dedicated at Old Plateau Cemetery and Africatown Graveyard
MOBILE, Ala. — A year after an archaeological project located hundreds of unmarked graves at the site, a historical marker was dedicated at the Old Plateau Cemetery and Africatown Graveyard today.
The marker is the 35th in the African-American Heritage Trail of Mobile. The trail was established in 2007 by the Mobile Historic Preservation Society and is directed by Dora Finley.
In late 2009 and early 2010, a project conducted by Neil Norman of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., used ground-penetrating radar supplied by Daphne Utilities to locate unmarked graves throughout the site along Bay Bridge Cutoff Road on Mobile’s north side.
At the marker unveiling, University of South Alabama professor Kern Jackson and AfricaTown descendant Philip Tyus performed a rite in which water from the Mobile River was poured into the ground while the names of some of those buried at the site were recited.
About 3,000 people are buried at the cemetery, which was established in 1876.
The ceremony also honored Emperor Green (1836-1909). Green was a Buffalo Soldier, one of many black American soldiers recruited as cavalrymen after the Civil War. Most, like Green, fought in the Indian wars of the western frontier.
Three members of the Alabama Chapter 1 of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers, Sgt. Gabe Peck, Joe Hollins and Bruce Mitchell, watched the dedication on horseback and planted an American flag at Green’s grave.
Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson, who served as master of ceremonies for the indoor part of the program at Union Missionary Baptist Church nearby, told the audience to take note of a conch shell that marks a grave close to the marker site.
Slave ships often diverted to the Caribbean islands, Richardson said, to restore the health of the Africans aboard before they could be to sold in the U.S. Queen conch was a primary dietary staple of this process, Richadson said.
Today, conch shells are frequently found in the homes of black families, especially in rural areas of the South, he said. “It will probably be the only relic your African ancestors left behind,” Richardson said.
Finley said efforts are already under way to have all of AfricaTown — what is known as Plateau today — listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Also, she said the first African-American Heritage Trail bus tour for elementary school students studying Alabama history will take place Feb. 16 for students at Council Traditional School. She said the historic society and heritage trail are underwriting the costs of the tours for participating school systems.
Teachers and school administrators who wish to book the tour can get information by logging on to www.maaht.org.
The Rev. Lamar D. Brady and the Rev. Christopher Williams, as well as Mobile City Councilman William Carroll, also addressed those in attendance.
But it was left to Lorna Woods, who grew up close to the 139-year-old church on Bay Bridge Road, to impart enthusiasm for the day’s event. “This is out Super Bowl,” Woods said. “We never thought we would be recognized.”
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