The graveyard sits in a copse of trees surrounded by a deteriorating stone wall. Most who know these farms well know it’s there, but I don’t think anyone really visits except me. My favorite person from this place is buried there. His name is Primus, and I think he can hear me.
In the late afternoons sometimes, I walk up and talk to the folks who are buried in the undulating earth, most of their graves unmarked by any stone except, perhaps, a two pieces of slate stuck vertical in the ground, one at head and one at foot, and long away worn down or washed clean of names. But three stones bear words, gifts cut into rock – Ben Creasy, the carpenter, Jesse Nicholas, the stonemason, and Primus, the foreman. – from my (hopefully) forthcoming book You Will Not Be Forgotten
So, when I heard that another cemetery was in danger of being destroyed just up the road in Charlottesville, my throat tightened up. The Sammons Family Cemetery is a historic burial ground that holds the graves of several prominent African-American families in the area, including the Sammons themselves, a free family of color. The place is important because of the history tied to the community, and it’s important because these are people whose stories are linked to this particular piece of land, this community.
The cemetery was just recently “re-discovered,” and now there is an effort from Sammons descendants and other community members to prevent the exhumation and relocation of the people buried there as the city of Charlottesville begins to build its new bypass through this land.
I care deeply about this place, having not even been there yet. I care because this is a part of our history as Americans, a part we don’t know much of yet, a part that has been kept silent for generations – often purposefully, sometimes unintentionally. The history of black people in this country, and particularly in the South, where at least half of our history IS black history, is crucial to our understanding of what we have come from and through and of where we are now.
But even more, this place should be preserved because it is sacred. Here, the stories of people’s lives as they have shaped their bodies are rooted into the ground. Here, we can stand and see the rivers and the hills, the trees that these people would have seen. Here, their stories took in air.
In our society that is so transient, that is so digitized, that is so physical mutable, cemeteries are grounding forces. They are holy.
And for the Sammons, for the other families there, for us, we need them to stay that way.
If you’d like to help the efforts to save this cemetery, please read the history of the people and place at the Central Virginia History Researchers’ website, and please, like the Facebook Page for the Sammons Cemetery as well. Thank you.
What physical places are sacred to you? Why those places?