Raleigh cemetery could be resting spot for hundreds of unidentified slaves

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Oberlin Cemetery in Raleigh in a sacred place not only because of the graves than can be seen, but also the ones that can’t be seen.

People checking out the cemetery in the heart of North Carolina’s capital can see most of the graves if they look closely. Spot one section of depressed ground about the length of a human body and the eye will start catching them everywhere.

“I feel a sense of sacredness,” said Sabrina Goode. “I always feel like the spirits are surrounding me. It’s like a canopy of peace in the middle of a hubbub. Very serene (and) sacred place.

Those in the unmarked, anonymous gravesites won’t ever get the credit they deserve, Goode said.

“The people who are here are the people who literally built the city of Raleigh.”

Goode is the executive director of the Friends of Oberlin Village.

Before Oberlin Cemetery became an official place of rest in 1873, it was a place where slaves were buried — quite possibly hundreds of them. Only unmarked stones or sunken ground is left to mark where they were buried.

“Now we can use that information to find funding and volunteer labor to mark those graves and tell those stories,” said Dru McGill, who is an anthropologist with North Carolina State University. He is working with Goode. They’ve taken on the extraordinary task of trying to identify all of them.

“Historically, there have been fewer sites preserved of African-American heritage,” McGill said. “We want to make sure that this site is so important in documenting African-American heritage and history in Raleigh, and Wake County and North Carolina gets the attention it deserves.”

So far, at least 650 graves have been found. Less than half of those are marked. The cemetery is in Oberlin Village, which was founded by freed slaves.

“These markers may be, in some cases, one of only a few artifacts or pieces of physical evidence left to tell the stories of people who founded and raised this village into the thriving successful village that it was and is today,” said McGill.

“A lot of information currently is below the ground, and what we’d like to do as an organization is raise it to the top and to be able to share it. And I think the citizens of not only Raleigh but the state and the nation would be absolutely surprised to see what they find out,” added Goode.

Perhaps families who today know nothing about where they came from and where their ancestors are buried will finally have the answers that have been kept silent for well over a century.

Click here to learn more about the Friends of Oberlin Village.

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