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Preserving African American cemeteries in Pensacola

A funeral procession circa 1910.
UWF Historic Trust
A funeral procession circa 1910.

Cemeteries are outdoor museums that chronicle the history and heritage of communities. Archaeologists, historians, and genealogists are now focusing attention on African-American cemeteries to understand and preserve them.

These researchers use cemeteries in different ways to study people and events that often cannot be told by any other means. The importance of this work increases as cemeteries age or when their support organizations decline.

Whether well maintained or in disrepair, cemeteries will be a constant presence on the landscape into the future. How these sites are addressed results in cemeteries becoming community eyesores or assets.

African-American cemeteries are an example of those that have been neglected and abandoned, but this is beginning to change. There is now legislation at the federal leveland in Florida, specifically, to help protect historic African-American cemeteries.

In Pensacola, archaeologists are using technology such as remote sensing and mapping to transition these African-American cemeteries into community assets that will enhance our understanding of their heritage and culture.

Unearthing Florida is a project of WUWF Public Media, the Florida Public Archaeology Network(FPAN), and its founder, Dr. Judith Bense, since 1998. FPAN's Michael Thomin is a contributor to the program. WUWF's Sandra Averhart is executive producer.

Dr. Judy Bense is President Emeritus and Professor of Anthropology/Archaeology at UWF.