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?