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Examing the grave markers at AME Zion and Magnolia cemeteries

grave marker
UWF Archaeology Institute
A grave marker for Mrs. Clora Stewart at Magnolia Cemetery shows handmade engraving.

Grave markers reflect community preferences and availability, and this is very evident in Pensacola’s AME Zion and Magnolia cemeteries.

UWF Archaeology Institute
A grave for Newton Coles at Magnolia Cemetery.

Under the umbrella of the AME Zion Church, their burial association sold plots to their members. Established in the late 1800s, the cemeteries included almost two full city blocks and were the main burial grounds for church members from across Pensacola through the 1970s.

Recent mapping efforts at the cemeteries by historical archaeologists show that just under 10% of the cemetery markers are handmade. While these markers occur throughout time, they are most common in the 1920s and ‘30s, possibly reflecting a time when economics and segregation made other marker options unavailable to people of color.

Some handmade markers at AME Zion and Magnolia cemeteries have very personal touches, including drawings created with everyday household artifacts like can openers and drawer pulls. These headstones reflect a different time in Pensacola and give us unique insight into Africa-American 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.