Monday, January 27, 2014

Slaves at the Zoo

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 5:30 AM

Michael Cass at The Tennessean has a really interesting story about an old slave graveyard at the zoo and the zoo's efforts to move the graves in order to make room for zoo expansion.

In a legal filing this month, zoo officials have asked a Davidson County Chancery Court judge for permission to relocate the small cemetery. They want to use the land for a new, $6.8 million “entry village” that’s expected to open in the second half of 2015. With business booming and congestion around the ticket booths increasing, the zoo says it needs a bigger, safer and more efficient entryway.

Zoo leaders and the archaeologist they’ve hired say they’ll be careful in reinterring the remains on a plot of land near Croft House, the circa-1810 home that sits to the west of the zoo’s carousel, just beyond a thicket of trees. That spot, already marked off by orange tape, is not far from the small, fully marked cemetery for members of the white families who owned the home.

There's something unsettling about the idea of digging anyone up and moving him or her, but my knee-jerk reaction to oppose this doesn't really seem borne out by the story. The old approach to slave cemeteries was to just ignore their presence and build or pave over them as need be—which is not only disgusting, but pretty much the set-up for later horror movies about this area—and so locating them and making sure the remains are moved to a safer location out of the way of progress is a a much better strategy.

And this way, if there any anything archaeologists can learn from the graves to give us more information about who exactly these people were and what their lives were like, we can give them more of an identity than just unknown people buried at the zoo.

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