Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves
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By the eve of the Civil War, there were four million slaves in North America, and Harrison County was the largest slave-owning county in Texas. So when China Galland returned to research her family history there, it should not have surprised her to learn of unmarked cemeteries for slaves. "My daddy never let anybody plow this end of the field," a local matron told a startled Galland during a visit to her antebellum mansion. "The slaves are buried there." Galland's subsequent effort to help restore just one of these cemeteries—Love Cemetery—unearths a quintessential American story of prejudice, land theft, and environmental destruction, uncovering racial wounds that are slow to heal.
Galland gathers an interracial group of local religious leaders and laypeople to work on restoring Love Cemetery, securing community access to it, and rededicating it to the memories of those buried there. In her attempt to help reconsecrate Love Cemetery, Galland unearths the ghosts of slavery that still haunt us today. Research into county historical records and interviews with local residents uncover two versions of history—one black, one white. Galland unpacks these tangled narratives to reveal a history of shame—of slavery and lynching, Jim Crow laws and land takings (the theft of land from African-Americans), and ongoing exploitation of the land surrounding the cemetery by oil and gas drilling. With dread she even discovers how her own ancestors benefited from the racial imbalance.
She also encounters some remarkable, inspiring characters in local history. Surprisingly, the original deed for the cemetery's land was granted not by a white plantation owner, but by Della Love Walker, the niece of the famous African-American cowboy Deadwood Dick. Through another member of the Love Cemetery committee, Galland discovers a connection to Marshall's native son, James L. Farmer, a founder of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and organizer of the 1961 Freedom Riders. In researching local history, Galland also learns of the Colored Farmers' Alliance, a statewide group formed in the 19th century that took up issues ranging from low wages paid to cotton pickers to emigration to Liberia.
By telling this one story of ultimate interracial and intergenerational cooperation, Galland provides a model of the kind of communal remembering and reconciliation that can begin to heal the deep racial scars of an entire nation.
the electric organ. The melody is drowned out by the volume of sound that sets my head pounding. The choir director turns to the congregation and invites us to stand and join the chorus. I gather my energy. The wooden pews creak and clothes rustle as people pull themselves up. I pull myself up too, determined to find the beat. I need to get with it or get out, I tell myself, that’s the way to treat the headache. I begin to move, to relax with the waves of energy that wash over and swirl around
bad….” This is my struggle, she’s right on it, exhorting us, encouraging me, all of us, to keep choosing love, to keep being willing to be uncomfortable. I have to give up my pride, I have to not know how Love Cemetery will turn out, I have to keep choosing a vision of reconciliation and healing, even though I have no idea how to bring this about, even though I, as one individual, have utterly no power to bring this about, people have to want it. Is this just some crazy idea of mine? Let go, let
unfamiliar, many inscrutable. Doris continues to stand there next to me. She leans over and says warmly, “It’s all right, China,” under her breath. “Yes,” I say. Our rift is mended in that moment. I can feel it now and I know that it is true. After the service a few people come up to me, shake my hand, and greet me for the first time. No one makes a fuss or says much except for R.D., who comes up to shake my hand and gives me a big smile and says approvingly, “That was beautiful, baby,
changed hands as the land was either parceled off or sold out of the builder’s family. Blossom Hall had remained intact, and at that time, in 1993, it was probably the last former plantation in the county that had been owned and occupied continuously by the family that had it built. Lydia couldn’t drive anymore, so one day my favorite older cousin, Jack Verhalen, and I took her out to the woods to search for an abandoned graveyard that belonged to her relatives. In a sunlit grove within a pine
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