Radar detects possible 200+ unmarked graves from 1800s at Clemson cemetery

Around the South

(WSPA)

CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – Clemson University officials announced Monday that ground-penetrating radar revealed the possible locations of more than 200 unmarked graves believed to be those of African Americans that date back more than a century.

According to a news release, the radar revealed the possible locations of the graves in Woodland Cemetery on Clemson’s campus.

Clemson officials said the graves are believed to be those of “enslaved people who worked from about 1830 to 1865 on John C. Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation and later as sharecroppers and Black laborers, including convicted individuals involved in the construction of Clemson College from 1890 to 1915. All are believed to be African Americans,” according to the release.

According to the release, tests show disturbed soil about 5 feet below the surface, which indicates possible burial sites.

Clemson officials told us Monday that more than 215 possible bodies and that more testing is pending.

Marker flags have been placed at the cemetery where the radar has shown possible locations of the graves.

Many of the potential graves are located in the area of Woodland Cemetery to the west of the Calhoun family plots, which have long been thought to be the site of the graves of African Americans dating back to the 1800s, according to the release.

Officials said the university has reached out to leaders in the local African American community, and that Dr. Rhondda Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson, will be interacting with families to better understand who could be buried in the cemetery, as well as seek guidance on how the university should honor them.

“We are committed to taking all the critically important actions to enhance these grounds, preserve these gravesites, and to ensure the people buried there are properly honored and respected,” Smyth McKissick, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said. “Clemson is dedicated to developing and sharing a full and accurate history of this area and to develop a preservation plan to protect it and those who rest here.”

According to the release, the university hired a historian to assist Dr. Paul Anderson, Clemson’s historian who is leading the research, and all of the work will be published on a website Clemson has started to help document the school’s role in Woodland Cemetery.

“Clemson requested a court order in September 1960 approving the school’s plan to locate graves in this area marked with field stones and to move them several hundred feet to an area to the south. The number of graves moved is not yet known, but it now appears many are still in their original location,” according to the release. “Efforts to identify and preserve these original historic gravesites in 1992 and again in the early 2000s were inconclusive.”

In 2002, Clemson reportedly installed protective fencing around the one-acre section and identified the area as the “Site of Unknown Burials.” Twenty-five of the gravesites recently found on radar were located in and around the fenced area.

According to the release, historic markers were erected at Woodland Cemetery in 2016, designating the area as the site of the Fort Hill Slave and Convict Cemetery, as well as acknowledged the roles played by enslaved and convicted individuals buried on the property.

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