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History students shed new light on old burial site

Near the well-kept grounds of Magnolia Cemetery lies an abandoned African American burial ground with overgrown scrub and brush and trash that obscures the tombstones of those interred there.

Cadets and active duty students in the Senior Capstone History 443 course have been working to clear the overgrown vegetation and learn more about the people buried at Lewis Christian Union Cemetery. The students' work is part of an on-going effort on the part of the Preservation Society of Charleston to restore and preserve the 19th century cemetery.

Working from the information they gather from the headstones, the cadets are using electronic databases available through The Citadel's Daniel Library to write brief biographies of the interred.

Clearing the dense brush to discover markers that have been obscured for more than 10 years was "a humbling experience, but also very rewarding," said Cadet Joy Jamison. "It gave us a chance to learn more about Charleston and reflect on the lives of those who have passed."

Veteran student Benjamin Harrington, who is writing about Charleston's cultural contributions to the Jazz Age, said he hopes "people will be more encouraged to visit and take an interest" in the cemetery.

Lewis Christian Union was among dozens of African American organizations formed in the 19th century to provide burial plots and a host of other social services to its members. These institutions testify to the creativity of African Americans as they confronted slavery and segregation, said Kerry Taylor, assistant professor of history.

Burial societies ensured African American Christians a proper burial and a well-maintained grave. When the last society members died, however, the cemeteries fell into decline. There are dozens of similar burial sites on Charleston's peninsula, many of which have been destroyed by development, he said.

The History Department, the Service Learning Program at the Krause Center, of Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel and the buildings and grounds department provided assistance to the Capstone project.

For more information on Lewis Christian Union or the work of the Preservation Society, contact

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