African American News and Genealogy

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Judge rules black cemetery may not be developed

CHARLESTON, S.C. - A county judge has ruled that a seemingly abandoned, overgrown black cemetery in Mount Pleasant may not be developed for a home. The Scanlonville Cemetery, dating back about 130 years, was never formally abandoned, Charleston County Master-In-Equity Mikell Scarborough said. In a 16-page order resulting from a trial in June, Scarborough wrote that nothing in the record showed the community or the families of the dead severed their ties to the land. "There can be no clearer acceptance than the public use of the property to bury their loved ones," Scarborough wrote. Scarborough noted sometimes haphazard black burial traditions, including those of the people who settled the hamlet of Scanlonville in 1870 as a village for freed slaves. "Typical of other African-American rural burial grounds in the area, the deceased were generally buried in family groupings, not in organized plots," he wrote. Charleston lawyer D. Peters Wilborn, who represented descendants of those buried there, said the case was strong because so many relatives testified about their ties to the land. "You can't have title to publicly dedicated land," Wilborn said. There had been burials at the property as recently as 1989. "I can sleep good at night knowing that my father can rest in peace," Mildred Clark Wise said after the ruling. Tom and Victoria Rogers paid $1 million in 1999 for the 3-acre cemetery property they hoped to incorporate into their 8-acre property. The couple said the land appeared to be abandoned because it was overgrown and poorly kept. The couple's lawyer, Louis Lang of Columbia, declined to comment. It's unknown exactly how many graves are at the site, but there could be several hundred by some estimates. While there haven't been any recent burials because of the lawsuit, some grave markers date to 1867. However, many of the graves do not have headstones. Information from: The Post and Courier,


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