ROCK HILL, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Humble. Grateful. Hopeful.
“And the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
A local York County bishop read those words as he conducted the last rites ceremony for 144 newly found slave graves on private property in Rock Hill, something they likely didn’t receive at their deaths.
They were sent off with Amazing Grace, a traditional funeral song that offers a message of peace and salvation after death.
Their graves were found just over a year ago on private property, covered in stones with symbols that resemble modern-day headstones.
During the ceremony, guests learned about how the graves were found and how slave burials were conducted during the pre-emancipation era.
“If you are a slave on a plantation, your experience with death is very different,” says one historian. “There is no family gathering as we know it. There are no times to which your death is celebrated.”
He says because enslaved people were considered property, enslavers didn’t see the need for a proper burial.
It consisted of the body sitting out until nighttime.
“Other slaves would then take your body at night to go bury it,” he told the audience. “Typically, you were assigned a place, a plot of land not very nice typically, off in the woods that was not productive to a slave master for that plantation. You were not embalmed.”
After the service, guests walked through the cemetery, now surrounded by a fence made by a Charlotte man and complete with headstones with numbers etched at the top depicting the number of graves currently at the site.
One woman who traveled from Georgia to visit was brought to tears.
“We pray for all those families who lost loved ones, who are lost to history,” prayed one pastor. “Especially, we pray for these 144 and probably more souls and commit them to you with grace into your eternal love.”