Ground Penetrating Radar Uncovers Black History at Oakwood Cemetery
A new land survey, funded by a grant from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, hopes to identify unmarked graves in the cemetery's historically Black section.
At Oakwood Cemetery in High Point, North Carolina, a new land survey using ground penetrating radar hopes to reveal scores of unmarked graves in the cemetery's historically Black burial section.
Then called the "colored section," local historians estimate that some hundreds of unmarked and unaccounted for graves could date back to the cemetery's beginnings in 1859, as reported by the High Point Enterprise. More from the Enterprise:
“I just want everybody accounted for out here,” cemetery supervisor Brad Embry said Monday afternoon as he watched a ground-penetrating radar device being rolled across a grassy section of the cemetery, where it is believed that black people had been buried since the cemetery’s creation in 1859.
“We’ll probably never know their names, but at least we’ll know how many are buried here. Once we get a number, we’re going to put a permanent number on each burial site so we’ll know that somebody is buried there,” Embry said.
The project kicked off on Monday and will reportedly continue until Thursday, June 11. music to the ears of local historian Phyllis Bridges, who is teaming with fellow historian Linda Willard to research and compile a book about that section of the cemetery.
“This will give us a much better count of how many African-Americans are buried there,” local historian Phyllis Bridges told High Point Enterprise. “In our research, we have found obituaries and public notices about people being buried there, but they don’t have markers. For example, we might find something that says, ‘John Doe was buried in the city cemetery in 1900.’ Well, OK, it has to be this cemetery, so we believe he’s buried there, but there’s no marker.”
New South Associates of Greensboro, North Carolina, is handling the land survey using ground penetrating radar, which includes two large land grids of 3,800 square meters. Early results indicate lots of unaccounted for depressions in the earth, but it is too soon to tell.
“We know what we’re looking for, but it takes time and effort to filter out tree roots from what could be a grave,” assistant geophysical specialist Maeve Herrick told High Point Enterpise. “And there’s always the chance that what we say is a grave is actually a root, and what we say is a root is actually a grave. It’s never 100 percent, but it’s pretty close.”
The survey is funded through a grant from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.