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200 unmarked graves, likely for slaves, found near cemetery

August 1, 2018
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Keith Seramur conducts a ground-penetrating radar search Tuesday, July 31, 2018, to uncover the "lost" graves in the African-American graveyard on the northern edge of God's Acre in Winston-Salem, NC. The Salem Congregation expects to locate at least 160 and perhaps up to 234 unmarked graves. Afterwards, they'll begin fundraising for money to purchase gravestones for each of them. (David Rolfe/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Researchers in North Carolina found more than 200 unmarked graves Tuesday near a cemetery, and it’s believed they belong to slaves.

The graves were found in the St. Philips Moravian Graveyard in Winston-Salem, and researchers think the slaves were buried after 1859, The Winston-Salem Journal reported . The graves were located by using ground-penetrating radar that indicates disturbances in the soil.

Keith Seramur, head of the Boone-based graveyard mapping team, said many of the people buried there were probably slaves who had little money, yet there were vaults found among the graves.

“That indicates more significance in the community and a formal burial with a rock slab over the coffin.” Seramur said.

White members of the Moravian religious community in Salem owned black slaves, but in the early days of the village, blacks and whites worked and worshipped together. Moravian slaves were buried in the main God Acre’s graveyard.

By the early 1800s, fear of slave revolt and the adoption of mainstream Southern social customs led white Moravians to segregate their congregation.

In 1816, burials were segregated and slaves were buried in the cemetery at St. Philips Moravian Church, the oldest African-American church building in North Carolina and one of the oldest in the U.S.

The first burials of enslaved African-Americans in the second section of the graveyard — the center of Tuesday’s project — date back to 1859 after the St. Philips Church graveyard at S. Church Street was thought to be full.

Peggy Crouse, the chair of the committee overseeing the project, says the next step is to raise enough money through grants and fundraisers to put a personalized stone on each grave.

“This is the first time we’ve taken this kind of step to investigate the lost graves,” Crouse said. “We’re very excited.”

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Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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