Processional, Ceremonies Accompany May 4 Ancestral African Reinternment

By Barney Blakeney

May 4 the Gullah Society, the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston and the College of Charleston joined the City of Charleston in the reburial of African descended people who were buried on land that is now the Gaillard Center at Anson and George streets.

The remains of 36 African-descended people buried 1750-1800 were unearthed when the City began construction on the new Gaillard Center in 2013. In the years since, College of Charleston Adjunct Professor Dr. Ade Ofunniyin founded the Gullah Society to help document the discovery and to restore the African burial grounds.

The remains, which are the earliest found in Charleston so far, began an inquisition that created a student-led grassroots effort aimed at awakening the consciousness of the community in recognizing the enslaved Africans who built the city. Charleston’s rich history too seldom offers information about the Africans and their descendants who contributed so much to that history. “We are excited about this powerful event and the role that the community will play in determining how the ancestors will be honored and remembered,” said Joanna Gilmore, adjunct professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Charleston.

Since the remains were discovered, Gilmore and Ofunniyin, adjunct professor of Anthropology, African American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston and founder of The Gullah Society, joined forces in develop a team facilitated through National Geographic Society grants. The team has analyzed the DNA from the 36 people buried near Anson Street, collected a total of 80 DNA samples from people of African descent living in Charleston and conducted DNA analysis last summer at University of Pennsylvania.

A November 7 program featured Dr. Theodore Schurr and Raquel Fleskes (from the University of Pennsylvania) and Adeyemi Oduwole (CofC student and National Geographic Early Career Grant recipient) discussing the results of DNA analyses. Students studying the ‘Architecture of Memory’ with Prof. Nathaniel Walker, presented proposed designs for a memorial for the Anson Street ancestors based on the DNA research and public feedback. Through community engagement, school and art programs, the team hopes to explore what the public would like to see for the memorial.

May 4 the city formally reinterred the individuals’ remains, which travelled in a grand procession to the Gaillard Center. The procession began at the College of Charleston’s Barnet Garden. A horse-drawn carriage brought the caskets to the reburial site at George and Anson streets. St. The caskets were laid to rest  followed by speeches, music and dance on the Gaillard Lawn. Artwork inspired by the ancestors was exhibited at the Civic Design Center.

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