Orange and blue flags mark the location of unmarked slave graves just outside the cemetery behind Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church.
A stone wall separates the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery and the woods where slaves were buried with unmarked graves. Developers plan to build an access road to link the new TopGolf facility and almost 400 apartments to the road.
“It’s not common, but it’s not extraordinary,” said Morrill. Other churches, such as Providence Presbyterian and Sardis Presbyterian, have identified and established memorials at slave graveyards on their property. “There are many, many, many unknown and unmarked cemeteries and burial places in Mecklenburg County.”
A COMPLICATED HISTORY
Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church was formally organized in 1830, more than three decades before the Civil War and 35 years before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the U.S.
The inscriptions on gravestones in the church’s old cemetery reveal hints of what life was like for the white church members. It was a world where there were far more gravestones marking people who died young – carried away at 12, 16, 25 – than lived into their 60s and 70s, and where young men died in far-off places such as Richmond during the Civil War.
But the slave cemetery, a few dozen yards away, offers few clues beyond the plain stones and shallow impressions barely visible in the underbrush. Nineteen graves have been confirmed so far.
ames Killian, a church official and chair of the cemetery committee, said he had heard slaves might be buried in unmarked graves inside the old graveyard’s wall, but didn’t know about graves outside. He’s waiting to learn more about the size of the burial ground. Killian said the church could work with the developer to memorialize the site in some way, but they need to gather more information.
“It’s all so new. We’re going day-by-day here,” said Killian. “The developer has been extremely cooperative.”
The complicated and emotional nature of the history of slavery in Mecklenburg – and how it can clash with a modern-day development – burst into public view last week at a Charlotte City Council meeting. One of the neighbors opposed to the development showed up at a Charlotte City Council meeting with a sign that read “SOS Save Our Slaves.” The sign was meant to highlight a desire to preserve the site, but its insensitive wording incensed some council members.
“I’m not quite sure if you know how offensive that might be to those of us down here who are African-American,” City Council member Al Austin, who is black, told the man holding the sign, who appeared to be white. “Sir, that is the wrong message to send...I am quite offended.”
Gail Buff, one of the leaders of the opposition, apologized to City Council after that incident. She said the community needs more information about the graves and how they would be preserved.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Buff. “There are too many unknowns right now.”
She and her neighbors had other concerns beyond the graves: Light from the Topgolf venue spilling into their homes, increased traffic from this and other nearby developments, people who live in the new apartments using their neighborhood streets for a cut-through. Topgolf has proven extremely popular at its first location in Steele Creek, one reason Buff opposed the plan.
“It's like an amusement park in your neighborhood,” she said. “It’s really nice, but nobody wants that right here.”
City Council had been expected to vote on the proposal at their July 17 zoning meeting. Porter, the developer, said they had taken steps to address neighbors’ concerns, such as agreeing to leave a wider buffer of trees between nearby houses and the development, reducing the height of planned apartment buildings and trying to make sure Topgolf’s lights won’t be visible at night from nearby neighborhoods.
White numbered flags mark the location of slave graves just outside the cemetery behind Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church. Developers plan to build an access road to link the new TopGolf facility and almost 400 apartments to the road.
And, before dropping their plans, Porter said the developers would redesign the planned entrance road near the slave cemetery to make sure it doesn’t disturb the graves. Most of the land in that portion of the development had been slated for a runoff-collection and buffer area, so buildings wouldn’t have gone there in any case.
“The important thing is to identify and preserve it,” he said.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
"Proposed Topgolf, apartments expose piece of Charlotte’s history: Unmarked slave cemetery", Ely Portillo, Charlotte Observer, June 28, 2017.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass