Ancestors Fight To Save A Slave Cemetery in Louisiana
Cemeteries are an important part of black history. In this photo, Cecily Miller, left, executive director of the Forest Hills Educational Trust, and retired Harvard librarian Sylvia McDowell search for the graves of African Americans at a Boston cemetery. AP Photo / Greg M. Cooper
There is a battle going down in Louisiana. Twenty-five years ago there was an African-American community called Revilletown in Iberville Parish. And in the community was a cemetery founded by ex-slaves in 1874. The Mount Zion Baptist Association aims to continue to have control over the cemetery and prevent it from being destroyed. So the former residents of Revilletown are suing a vinyl-resin plant owned by Atlanta-based Georgia Gulf Corp., which is located near the cemetery. The association claims the cemetery was built by its ancestors and thus they still own the land. Georgia Gulf, however, claims it owns the land.
According to The Louisiana Weekly (via The Huffington Post), Revilletown residents first sued Georgia Gulf in 1987 after the plant contaminated their homes, and harmed their food sources and health with chlorine from the plant. The plant eventually forced the residents out of the area by bulldozing the community, claims the Association. Georgia Gulf kept the cemetery in tact and gave management authority for the cemetery to Mount Zion Baptist Church No.1—which is not affiliated with the association.
Today, Judge William DuPont at Iberville Parish Court will try a case pitting the Mount Zion Baptist Association against the Georgia Gulf Corp. plant in Plaquemine, reports Louisiana Weekly.
Georgia Gulf and Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries are in the process of merger, which might make it harder for the association to fight with a larger corporation, making this a David vs. Goliath story. Georgia Gulf claims that it’s only a tangential player in this whole situation; that really it’s the church and the association that have to duke things out in court. If that’s true, we would encourage these groups to get things sorted quickly. The history in that cemetery and the ongoing access they long to preserve will be gone if a moneyed company with the will to claim the land for business purposes decides to crank up their legal activity.
Moreover, this is a cautionary tale for all culturally significant landmarks. Make sure you have some sort of legal authority over these cultural sites and artifacts before a situation like this puts them in peril.