Laurel Cemetery was incorporated in 1852 as a nondenominational cemetery for African Americans of Baltimore, Maryland. It was the final resting place for thousands of Baltimoreans and many prominent members of the community, including religious leaders, educators, political organizers, and civil rights activists. During its existence, the privately owned cemetery changed hands several times, and by the 1930s, the site was overgrown, and garbage strewn from years of improper maintenance and neglect. In the 1950s, legislation was adopted permitting the demolition and sale of the property for commercial purposes. Despite controversy over the new legislation, local opposition to the demolition, numerous lawsuits, and NAACP supported court appeals, the cemetery was demolished in 1958 to make room for the development of a shopping center. Prior to the bulldozing of the cemetery, a few hundred gravestones and an unknown number of burials (fewer than 200) were exhumed and relocated to a new site in Carroll County. Ongoing archival research has thus far documented over 18,000 (projected to be over 40,000) original burials, most of which still remain interred beneath the Belair-Edison Crossing shopping center property, which occupies the footprint of the old cemetery.
This book highlights and historicizes underexplored and forgotten people and events associated with the cemetery, stressing the importance of their work in laying the social, economic, and political foundation for Baltimore’s African American community. Additionally, this text details the unsuccessful fight to prevent the cemetery’s destruction and the more recent grassroots formation of the Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project to research and commemorate the site and the people buried there.
Isaac Shearn currently holds adjunct positions at the Community College of Baltimore County, University of Baltimore, Coppin State University, and Morgan State University. In addition to his work in Baltimore, his research interests include the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Caribbean and South America, with a focus on public archaeology, developing inclusive and participatory methods.
Chapter 1: The Story of Laurel Cemetery
Authors: Elgin Klugh and Isaac Shearn
Chapter 2:"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Resurrecting Baltimore's Laurel Cemetery
Author: Edward C. Papenfuse
Chapter 3: Laurel Cemetery: Key to Unlocking Baltimore’s African American History
Author: Donna Tyler Hollie
Chapter 4:Creating a Legacy of Activism
Author: Beverly B. Carter
Chapter 5:“Gather around their sacred remains”: An Overview of the Laurel National Cemetery
Author: Robert W. Schoeberlein
Chapter 6:Not Without a Fight: The Decline and Closure of Laurel Cemetery
Author: Isaac Shearn
Chapter 7:Public Archaeology at Laurel Cemetery
Author: Ronald A. Castanzo
Chapter 8:Archival Research: Reconstructing the burial population of Laurel Cemetery
Author: Glenn A. Blackwell
Chapter 9:Reconciling the Landscape: Public Engagement and Placemaking at the site of
Author: Elgin Klugh
List of Contributors
About the Editors
A Place for Memory commemorates the deep and rich value of African American cemeteries. Whether visible or invisible, these sites are important parts of the cultural and geographic landscape. Shearn and Klugh remind us that memories of Laurel Cemetery—and many other lost burial grounds—do matter.
This must read book about Laurel Cemetery challenges what we think we know about preservation and Black sacred sites in America.
During this pivotal time when many African American communities are trying to raise awareness about the historic injustices committed against African American cemeteries, this book demonstrates how current day activism and community based scholarship are shining a light on the forgotten past of Maryland African Americans.
A Place for Memory is a powerful work of public scholarship. Painstakingly researched, the book documents the contributors' critical effort to relocate Laurel Cemetery and to reclaim the physical, social, and political landscapes on which it was established. The book is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary inquiry. Working together, public historians, archaeologists, archivists, genealogists and others have demonstrated that historic cemeteries are important sources for new areas of inquiry about the past and they can promote new avenues for preservation activism in the present. The essays in A Place for Memory book can help guide community-led initiatives to identify, restore, preserve, and explore the histories represented by other endangered or destroyed Black cemeteries. Elgin Klugh, Isaac Shearn, and their project collaborators have done a great service by documenting their process, sharing their findings, and telling compelling stories about the individuals and communities connected to Historic Laurel Cemetery.
This excellent book is a holistic understanding of Baltimore's African American history, shedding more light on a consistent theme in the U.S., forgotten pasts, and a people's triumph and struggle even in their final resting place. The authors' approaches to revealing the narratives and history from underneath the ground are essential for successful collaborative community-engaged work in heritage preservation.
2/2/23, Choice: This book was highlighted in a roundup of forthcoming books in African American studies.