Unearthing African American History

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Neville Waters (left) chats with a Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting attendee. At right, Andrena Crockett and Outerbridge Horsey converse. Photo by Selma Khenissi.

This is the thing about history: it is never done telling its stories about the past.

On Monday night, Oct. 10, the Citizens Association of Georgetown held a meeting at the Oak Hill Cemetery. Usually, the venue isn’t one of the main topics at events like these, but, in this case, the cemetery — in fact, two cemeteries — became an important part of the discussion.

Cemeteries are often seen as a given. The idea of being buried in an unmarked grave easily evokes a feeling of unease. What is not a regular topic of conversation, however, is the maintenance needed to keep a cemetery functioning.

Though the Oak Hill Cemetery has been around for 170 years, given concerns such as space, pathways, the narrowing of roads and the renovation of drainage systems, there is a lot of work involved in making the cemetery accessible.

“We continue to be an operating cemetery,” said George Hill, president of the Oak Hill Cemetery.

Part of the maintenance of a functioning cemetery is making sure that historical information is imparted accurately and completely. As historic as the Oak Hill Cemetery is, an important facet that is largely missing — also from other Georgetown locations — is African American history.

Andrena Crockett, who spoke at the event, said African American landmarks aren’t only a part of African American history; they are also part of Georgetown’s history and U.S. history. As yet, they haven’t come to light to many people. These landmarks connect with the histories of both enslaved and free African Americans.

“We are here to put markers on those sites,” said Crockett.

Sites where the installation of historic markers is planned are along the C&O Canal, at the Georgetown waterfront and in Rock Creek Park.

Longtime Georgetown resident Neville Waters, president of the Mt. Zion Cemetery/Female Union Band Society, pointed out the racial history represented by the burial of black and white people who had attended the same Methodist church. The cemetery was condemned in the 1950s. After significant obstacles, plans are underway to form a historical memorial park.

“Stay tuned,” said Waters.

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