The Disturbing Erasure of Black Burial Grounds
The gentrification of these once sacred spaces is costing us our culture
There are many parts to this story and all of them are true.
I dug my first grave at the age of six, in the backyard of a house that is no longer there. The house was behind a street that sucked the spirit out of alive Black boys. I’d known the street intimately, how ruthless and unfairly it laid our bodies out to the sun, unwilling to provide any sense of release. While I was doing homework, Zeek the rabbit had jumped out my second-story window straight onto the dry ground, momentarily paralyzed. I watched as our dog inched forward in attack mode as Zeek tried climbing out of his paralysis.
The dog’s eyes went wild as he snapped and shook Zeek’s body back and forth like a toy. I ran down the stairs, remembering family stories of lynchings and dogs chasing Black bodies. The cream-colored mattress on the ground had been a magical, soft place where we pretended to be superheroes, where everything else was forgotten and we could fly. The knowledge that it became another tampered thing covered in blood was enough to make me dizzy. My lunch came up and as I panted, I made the decision to bury this once alive thing that I had fed and loved and prayed over.
I kept digging as dirt, snot, and tears trailed into my mouth like wet straw, and I was called in for dinner. Instead of eating, I brought Zeek’s things outside. His favorite toy, the piece of cabbage he’d been eating hours before, the stick figure of him I drew in class, a flameless candle. I made a makeshift altar and asked everyone in the house to come out for prayer. Zeek was somewhere else now and needed to be ushered along.
And as his blood cooled and turned dark brown, our dog nuzzled my leg. For a moment, I pulled away from my swollen grief and bloody hands to look at him.
I did not bury my uncle who died in a similar way, though that time it was with a car and a drunk driver. He was crossing the street to get a Snapple and some candy from the store. The impact was so severe that it threw his eight-year-old body down 19th Avenue, and as the ambulance lifted him onto the stretcher, pieces of him fell out.