Black History Month: Volunteers work to preserve historic black burial site in Durham
Geer Cemetery is the oldest public cemetery for African Americans in Durham. It is the final resting place of nearly 2,000 people between 1877 and 1944, many of whom experienced slavery and the inhumanity of Jim Crow laws in the South.
The cemetery has been untended for decades, but thanks to the work of the Friends of Geer Cemetery, it is being restored and preserved. The group also runs tours to educate visitors about those buried at Geer, many of whom played central roles in founding institutions in Durham, including North Carolina Central University.
“We think it’s very important that their legacy be told,” said Debra Taylor Gonzales-Garcia, president of the Friends of Geer group.
The voluntary organization partnered with the Durham Marble Company, Eagle Scouts and other community organizations for the cleanup. The work at Geer Cemetery is part of a movement to preserve and restore black cemeteries across the country.
“Throughout the South and in cities large and small like Durham, Richmond, Virginia, even this story of African Americans making their own cemeteries, their own burial grounds their own sacred places, is a story that is still repeating itself. and again,” said Tom Miller, treasurer of Friends of Geer. “It’s the stories. It’s the most important thing.”
Friends of Geer Cemeteries are always looking for volunteers or partner organizations to work on the 4-acre site and also do genealogical research.
Funding is part of the preservation process and the group hopes that federal legislation will soon be passed The African American Cemetery Preservation Act to help fund restoration efforts at cemeteries like Geer across the country.
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