Developer Gives Tract to Slave Descendants
Friday, November 23, 2007
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After decades of being barred from the land where their ancestors were laid to rest, the descendants of a slave in Lexington will get a piece of the land he once owned for a family cemetery.
"Now I know my ancestors will rest in peace," said Revious Amaker, who lives next to the land her ancestor, Dave Draft, bought from his slave master in 1789.
Under an agreement announced Wednesday, Amaker's family will be deeded four lots -- about a quarter-acre -- for a fenced-in cemetery off a dirt road. Two sets of remains unearthed this summer will be buried there, along with any more remains found during construction of a housing development.
"It's a very exciting and happy ending," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Most disputes involving black cemeteries do not end like this, Randolph said, adding, "There was a human decency that existed here."
The developer, NBT of Columbia, was unaware of the cemetery when it bought more than 20 acres in 2005. The discovery of remains has cost the company more than $80,000 and delayed construction, but NBT wanted to help the family, company attorney Heath Taylor said.
"This is a good day for everyone," said Taylor, who thinks the settlement balances the company's moral responsibility to the family with its economic interest.
The developer will tread carefully and look for remains as it builds on the end of the property near the cemetery. The developer will either build a wood fence around the family's cemetery or give them about $3,300 toward a brick fence. Randolph hopes to line up volunteer brick masons, and the family hopes to have the bricks donated.
According to family tradition, more than 100 ancestors were buried at the site in wood boxes without tombstones. Archaeologists could not give an exact number of remains, because most probably decomposed completely, family attorney Joseph McCulloch said.
This dispute dates to a 1927 land sale. That deed gave the family access to the cemetery, limited to a quarter-acre of the roughly nine acres sold. But the access clause disappeared when the land was sold again a decade later.
The Rev. Freda Bonner of Lexington said she remembers when, in 1949, one family's house was burned, and a burning cross was put in another's yard for daring to ask to visit the cemetery. She said her mother's dying request was that she "see about the cemetery."
Amaker said her father was told in 1986 to never set foot on the property again.
"This is going on 80 years through five generations," said Bonner, who has cancer. "It means I will go to my rest in peace. It means so much to me, more than words can express."