America’s cemeteries reveal surprises, discrimination

By JEFF ROWE Associated Press

It turns out that America’s cemeteries are much more than keepers of our remains until the organisms within the soil can get everything back. Cemeteries tell us about our beliefs, principles, economics, and cultural values, says Greg Melville in this fascinating examination of how we treat and abuse our dead.

Looking at the subject, Melville moves lightly and with great interest in connections, trends, and absurdities.

He points out, for example, that post-WWII suburban schemes were inspired by the simplicity of design that began decades earlier in cemeteries.

Cemeteries can be much more than just collections of burial plots. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, is known for its sculptures, art, antiques, and books also found on the site, which also hosts exhibitions and concerts.

America’s favorite place to scatter burners? It may be Central Park in New York although the high concentration of calcium in the creams makes it desirable to spread it widely.

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The descendants of the Seneca Indians who lived in the area where Central Park was built, did not have the opportunity to scatter the crematoriums of the remains of their relatives – the park was built over the village cemeteries.

Death is big business in America. Melville wrote that the “death industrial complex” generates $20 billion in annual sales.

The book takes a peek at what lies ahead in the dying business, given how many or so urban cemeteries are full or so, and they are having a hard time sustaining themselves because they lack fresh income.

The book says that 144,000 cemeteries in the United States collectively occupy an area larger than the area of ​​the entire state of Delaware.

New burials in Philadelphia and Marin County, California, wrap bodies in cloth and bury them without storing chemicals, metal boxes or concrete burial vaults.

The most powerful sections of the book are those that explain the lengths to which whites often went so that blacks would not be buried nearby. The early Chinese immigrants were also shunned when they died despite their roles in building the transcontinental railroad and western cities. The graves of the Indians were looted and structures were built over the cemeteries of India.

Even death blacks could not escape segregation. Melville’s book documents how cemeteries in many states were separated and remained that way.

In 2021, he wrote, the family of a black Louisiana deputy sheriff was banned from burying him at a local cemetery because they “enforced an illegal whites-only policy.”

As Melville explains, black tombs generally remain inferior to those created by and for whites. Yet spending forever in an unkempt graveyard remains ostensibly better than the fate of the 6 million enslaved people in America from the arrival of the first ships carrying human cargo until emancipation. Melville says we only know where a “part” of the six million is buried.

While the federal government funds the upkeep of Confederate soldiers’ burial sites, it does not allocate any money to “restoration and preservation of historically black cemeteries.” The Maryland legislature has debated funding for historically black cemeteries but has yet to take action.

Melville has researched, written, and written a powerful book that not only advocates for us to embrace fair treatment of all Americans in death but also in life. It is up to us to fix the injustices of the past in America’s cemeteries because as Melville reminds us, “the dead have no voice.”

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