Old Slave Cemetery

Update: The Wildwood City Council voted to keep the name in 2013; there has been no other effort to change the name since then.

My family and I took a drive out to Old Slave Road and looked to see if we could find the slave cemetery at the heart of the recent controversy over changing to the name of the road to something more yuppie and palatable to the gentle dispositions of some of the residents on the lane.

It’s not looking good for the preservation of the name, which is admittedly not the most accurate name for the road; an alternative name suggested, Slave Cemetery Road, is much more appropriate.  But that would still remind the residents of the road that they live on land where human rights were violated, so it will probably not do, either.  Bill McClellan wrote eloquently on this aspect.

This controversy is part of a greater problem in America today, where we continue to politicize history, attempting to cover-up atrocities committed in America behind vague pseudo-philosophical arguments.  The primary argument for changing the name seems to instead in this case be financial; a property owner is afraid it will be harder to sell his land.

We found the cemetery plot, with its neon pink ribbons marking the locations left by archeologists.  None of the names of the people who are buried here survive; except for the name of the road, there is no memorial to their suffering on this very land.  Imagine, if you could go back to before the Civil War, what would you see occurring on this land?  Would you see someone being savagely whipped because they “hadn’t worked hard enough?”  Instead of play equipment or a basketball hoop, was there a pen where slaves were locked up when their owners entertained guests?  Would you see family members of slaves placing simple stones on their loved-one’s grave because the Campbells were too cheap to buy limestone for proper tombstones?

The fact remains, despite what some of the people of Wildwood want to think, that human beings suffered and died, perhaps at the hands of their masters, on the very land where there are now suburban homes.  There must be some memory of their suffering, or their enslavers have won by succeeding in making us forget the crimes they perpetrated. Why is that so hard to understand?

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Maher - Kirkwood says:

    Because White Bread sells better than Whole Wheat (or Rye).
    You’re right; McClellan DID write movingly.
    Your mention of the apparent parsimony of the owners about headstones, however simple, is another good argument – send your note to McClellan.

  2. samizdat says:

    This is simply another shameful case of the act of forgetting.

  3. Rick Moeller says:

    Was there anything left out there like crude grave markers or such? It would be interesting to see if there was anything left indicating it was a cemetery.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      It was rainy, but supposedly there are rocks marking the graves. Apparently it’s hard to know exactly how many people were buried there, because it was also tradition to put a stone at the foot of the grave as well. Also, there is a stream nearby that has degraded the site.

  4. Angela Myers says:

    When driving I have seen the sign for this road and was somewhat taken back by it. Old Slave. Though I am aware of our country’s history of slavery, I really didn’t know what to think of the name. Was it referring to a Slave that is old or the road is old? It sounds like something a person insensitive to these people and their plight may have named the road. Slaves surely referred to themselves by name and not as Slave, old or otherwise. I read that the new name for the road proposed was the name of one of the actual men that lived on the property as a slave and then as a free man along with his family. Perhaps the name change has less to do with forgetting the brutality of history and more about respecting and honoring those people as individuals.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Changing the name to one of the people interned in the cemetery would then rob the other people buried there of their identity. There were slaves on the property, and they were buried there. The name stands philosophically strong, though the addition of “cemetery” would be better.

  5. Clark says:

    I honor our ancestors in my heart. As I struggle to find these strong people of days long ago, I am sure they realize that those of that followed after them love them and want to learn about them. Anytime people like the person that wrote the article and those that leave a reply, it uplifts me spirit. Thank all of you, God bless you. By the way plant a small area of periwinkle in your yard. I have read this was a way slaves honored the graves of their loved ones and this was a way to find the graves.

  6. Joshua says:

    The name of the slave owner was actually Coleman. The original plantation house allegedly still exists. I’m trying to track down more info. If you knew who owns it now it’s understandable how it’s been kept off most historical archives. The second plantation house on the property was torn down in the 1950s. The current house that sits in the exact spot uses brick from the old house.

  7. Katherine says:

    I took a drive out there to see what I could find, and driving down the private road with its huge houses, I became intimidated that someone would tell me to get off their property. Does anyone know if you can in fact access the cemetery spot? Are the residents ok with people coming to visit it? Or is it more of a “press your luck” situation?

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Katherine, it’s been such a long time since I’ve thought about this that honestly, I don’t know if the flags are still there that some historians put up to mark the cemetery. I wish Wildwood would make more of an effort to identify and commemorate this important historic site.

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