Wilmington, NC – Author Jane Blanks Barnhill had to crawl through weeds and prod into the earth to find fallen stones in many of the small cemeteries she explored for her book, Sacred Grounds: Gone But Not Forgotten.
Barnhill says she became interested in publicizing Lumbee cemeteries after discovering her own great-great grandparents' graves in a remote plot on private land.
After hiking off a remote road and crossing several properties, Barnhill says she thought to herself, "'Boy if somebody wanted to, they could really tear up a place like this, and the cemetery would never be found.'" It was then that Barnhill decided the Lumbee needed a record of their graveyards.
But the search itself was something of a detective story; Barnhill had to use funeral homes and word-of-mouth to find dozens of private cemeteries where the tribe's ancestors rest. She says many of the plots she turned up were in bad condition. And more are being lost.
Barnhill remembers a cornfield her family had to drive past to get to Lumberton when she was a child. Every year after the harvest, two old stones would appear amid the stubble.
"At the time, I didn't know who they were, but I just looked forward to seeing those stones every year," Barnhill says. "I mean I looked for them, you know? And two years ago, the land was sold and people built a house there and the stones disappeared. Which is against the law, but nonetheless they did."
Over her four years of research Barnhill estimates she's driven every road in Robeson County to identify the 163 cemeteries that ended up in her book.
And she's still finding them; Barnhill says she's catalogued three more graveyards since Sacred Grounds came out in January.
Also from WHQR:
Lumbee Arists: New Art from an Ancient Craft