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Update #1: Graves of an estimated 5,000 18th and 19th century African Americans found in a historic cemetery in Philadelphia.

Photo from of Doug Mooney, senior archaeologist at the site, explaining the dig to visitors in July.

Photo from of Doug Mooney, senior archaeologist at the site, explaining the dig to visitors in July. reports that the graves of at least 5,000 African Americans, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, have been discovered at the historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. cemetery in Philadelphia, which now lies a few feet under a playground.  This number far exceeds the original estimate, and has astonished community leaders and historians working on the site.

The African American cemetery at the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, which was in use until the 1860’s, is the oldest, and among the largest in the country.  Though the cemetery is the first private burial ground for African Americans in Philadelphia, it sank into obscurity for over a century.  The ground fell into dilapidation in the 1870s, and the church sold it to the city around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, the cemetery has been a community garden and a playground.

Thanks to the work of historian Terry Buckalew, who accidentally stumbled on a mention of the cemetery while doing research for a documentary film project, an archaeological analysis was scheduled in advance of playground renovations and city enhancements.  When the story was original reported in July, Buckalew found almost 1,500 names of those interred in the cemetery.  He reached out to the church, the City Council, and neighborhood civic groups urge action to preserve the graves.  The cemetery was put on the city register of historic places in June, and the archaeology study was ordered in advance of renovations to the now-protected site.  The archaeological report, based on test excavations in July and analysis of city records, has compelled the city to delay scheduled renovation of the cemetery portion of the playground area while civic and religious leaders determine how to address memorialization.

The Mother Bethel ground occupies about a quarter-acre at the southwest corner of the three-quarter-acre playground at Queen and Lawrence Streets.  City officials are planning public meetings to see how the playground and the historic cemetery can co-exist.  The installation of new playground equipment, a storm-water management system, and other enhancements will probably commence in late spring of 2014.

The article lists the following people are interred at the Mother Bethel cemetery:

Read more at:

NBC10 Philadelphia

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Remains of a forgotten African American Graveyard found in South Philadelphia

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