Saturday, April 28, 2012

Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman's Cemetery

It's a joyous experience visiting the African American Museum* at 3536 Grand Avenue (Fair Park, near the Cotton Bowl stadium), Dallas, Texas, USA. I plan to return sometime soon to further explore the folk art and Mahalia Jackson exhibits, as well as to revisit the quite moving exhibit entitled "Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman's Cemetery." *(Free admission, open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.).

The Freedman's Cemetery received burials between 1869 and approximately 1925. Later, railroad and highway construction, the opening of a park right on the grounds and additional highway planning all disturbed the graveyard, until a public outcry led to an archaeological and historical survey and better protection of this hallowed space.

An exibition catalogue (front cover pictued above), edited by Alan Govenar and Phillip Collins, was published in 2000 by the African American Museum and Black Dallas Remembered.

From Govenor's "Exhibition Overview:" "Clearly, the preponderance of headstone fragments, combined with shells and with broken pieces of refined earthernware, decorative pottery and glass, procelain, stoneware, and bottles, attests to the melding of African and European burial traditions" (page 17). He goes on to draw a connection between artifiacts and burial practives of the Bakongo culture: "The Bakongo believed that the worlds of the living and the dead maintain an ongoing relationship. Those who remain on earth are responsible for providing a burial of the deceased, and the objects placed on graves are intended to protect both the living and the dead" (pages 17-18). ". . . the grave becomes a powerful force that  is activated by the objects placed on it, as well as by the ceremonies enacted at the gravesite" (page 18). 

In addition to contextualizing artifacts found at the graveyard, the exhibition and its catalogue do an excellent service by also placing the people interred in the Freedman's Cemetery in a more immediate historical context. There are photographs of living people, information culled from directories, and short illustrated sections devoted to different aspects of the lives of people. There's also a nice section on Music and Entertainment that includes Blind Lemon Jefferson and the five music shops located in "North Dallas" in 1925.

Today's Rune:  Warrior.     

1 comment: said...

I've always appreciated Mahalia Jackson as a singer.