Saving the Soul of the Magnolia State
The preservation of abandoned African American cemeteries is crucial to preserving the memory of the people who have made profound contributions to the growth of the country.
Recognizing where these burial grounds are and doing something to restore, preserve, and maintain them is a way of repudiating, rejecting, and overcoming the legacy of racism.
"Our work isn’t some hollow gesture to honor the blues. The music is very important, to be sure, but it's only the soundtrack. The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund serves as a legal conduit to provide financial and technical support to black church communities and cemeteries in the Mississippi Delta. We save rural cemeteries by any means necessary--whether its erecting memorials to musicians, engaging legal remedies, or filling the vast silences in important historical landscapes.
It's about saving the soul of Mississippi."
The Confederate Section of Oakwood Cemetery--which is owned and well-cared for by the city of Richmond, Virginia--gets an extra helping of taxpayer money from the state legislature every single year. Dozens of Confederate cemeteries, in fact, across the state have received similar allotments for roughly the past one hundred years. The cash goes to private entities like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Stonewall Confederate Memorial Association through the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
From 2007 to mid-2016, Virginia’s General Assembly handed the Daughters more than $700,000.
No similar law existed that authorized similar annual funding for the graves and graveyards of people enslaved in the former Confederate States of America. Such preferential treatment demonstrated the public commitment to preserving and honoring white heritage and was an example of dejure racial inequality in the United States.
In February, Virginia passed House Bill 1547, which directs funds to private organizations that preserve African-American gravesites--the first in the South.
Mississippi’s state code allows county boards of supervisors to donate money to locate and care for graves and graveyards of “Confederate soldiers or sailors who died in the Confederate service” and to purchase “land on which any of the said graveyards may be situated.” The state of Mississippi has no law that authorizes similar annual funding for the graves and graveyards of people enslaved in the former Confederate States of America. Since 1989, that is exactly where the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund has been entrenched.