The Race to Preserve America's Black Cemeteries

America's historic Black cemeteries, which have long fallen victim to displacement, relocation, and outright destruction, could have a new ally in the fight for preservation and recognition.

December 22, 2020, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Cement gravestones reading Father and Mother

The "African American Burial Grounds Network Act" proposes connecting Black cemeteries and burial sites across the country in a formal network and providing grant funding for research and restoration of sites. The bill hopes to reverse the loss of historic burial grounds and bring together the disparate web of volunteers and descendants who work to maintain historic cemeteries and bring their stories to light.

Despite repeated attempts by local communities to protect burial grounds, cities have frequently failed to prevent development from trumping the historic and spiritual significance of burial sites. In Richmond, Virginia, the city's Black cemetery was moved twice, largely at the whim of white residents moving into the newly suburbanized northside neighborhoods. Even today, a Maryland highway expansion project threatens to relocate dozens of gravesites from the 1890s. Without institutional protection or funding, historic Black cemeteries risk disappearing—and with them, huge chunks of American history.

The process of reclaiming graves, particularly when they've already been relocated or built over, can be painstaking and expensive. Volunteers like the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition in Maryland pour thousands of hours into researching historic sites, advocating with cities and property owners, and fundraising for plaques and memorials. If the proposed legislation passes, the funding and exposure (the program would fall under the purview of the National Parks Service) could support more comprehensive preservation plans and ensure long-term protection for historic Black cemeteries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020 in Time Magazine

Los Angeles Skyline

New Study Ranks the Urban Heat Island Effect in U.S. Cities

A new analysis by Climate Central evaluates the intensity of urban heat islands in cities around the United States—New Orleans tops the list.

July 15, 2021 - WBUR

Adams Morgan pedestrian zone during COVID-19 pandemic

The Most Complete Map of U.S. Pedestrian Risk Yet

New research published by the Journal of Transport and Land Use analyzes tens of thousands of pedestrian fatalities over 16 years in the United States.

July 20, 2021 - Streetsblog USA

Dallas Freeway Removal

The Freeway Removal Cause Gains Momentum—But Don't Forget Gentrification and Displacement

The case for freeway in urban areas isn't as unequivocal as it might seem. Plans to undo the damage of the legacies of past freeway planning need to ensure an inclusive future.

July 14, 2021 - Los Angeles Times

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.