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Wed, 12.03.1828

The Newnan Slave Cemetery, a story

Newnan Museum

*The Newnan Slave Cemetery is celebrated on this date in 1828. During the 19th century, Newnan, Georgia’s population was roughly 50 percent black, as the booming cotton trade increased the demand for labor.

An 1828 map shows the burial grounds were adjacent to property owned by slave owner Andrew Berry. Excavation work was about to begin when the President and Vice President of the African American Alliance in Newnan, Georgia, two Black residents intervened. The “Negro Graveyard”; deeds show that it had belonged to a slaveowner who, in 1888, sold it to the Newnan Cotton Mills. When, in 1999, the mayor was alerted to the land’s history, he ordered the work there to be ceased and later commissioned an archeological survey of the area. Using ground-penetrating radar, researchers identified 249 graves – all without tombs, just leaf-covered depressions, slightly hollow in the earth.

They realized that it was the largest slave cemetery in the South. The grounds most likely became a cemetery for slaves working in houses and businesses. The graves are arranged in clusters, perhaps indicating family groups. Bob Olmstead, a resident who has long believed the site was a slave cemetery, led the push to preserve the site. “There has been no African American history in Newnan until now,” said Olmstead, who is white. Olmstead hopes the site will eventually become one of the 72,000 sites listed with the National Register and preserved as a piece of Southern history. Slaves were commonly buried in simple pine boxes or shrouds on the plantations of their owners, said Josh Rothman, a history professor at the University of Alabama.

They were often identified only by wooden markers or stones, and careful records were seldom kept. In 1991, some 420 skeletons of slaves were found in New York City, the largest known cemetery.  Archaeologists at the University of Tuscaloosa have agreed to exhume two graves at the Newnan cemetery and perform DNA tests to determine the origins of the remains.

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