When caring for a historic African American cemetery, the most important things are not to do additional harm to the site or monuments, to keep yourself and your volunteers safe, to carefully document the work that you do and the information that you find, and to create a long-term plan that will ensure that the cemetery will be preserved into the future.
A useful starting point for anyone getting involved with cemetery preservation is Lynette Strangstad’s, A Graveyard Preservation Primer, 2nd Edition (American Association for State and Local History, 2013). Careful planning at the outset will help to avoid mistakes, frustration, or damage to the site. It will also create a strong foundation for ongoing efforts.
Before you get started, you should determined who currently owns or manages the site to get their permission to proceed. In some cases, the site may be orphaned or abandoned, and there may not be a legal owner. Once you get started, it is useful to evaluate what work can be done by trained volunteers and what should be performed by a professional monument conservator. Here are some resources to help you to begin planning your preservation efforts:
Preservation Plan Samples
- Preservation, Planning, and Care
- Features & History of African American Cemeteries
- Volunteer Management
- How to Preserve Historic Cemeteries and Burial Grounds: 10 Tips, National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Designing a Preservation Plan for a Historic Cemetery, Maryland Trust for Historic Preservation
- Historic Cemetery Long-Range Planning Workbook, Oregon Historic Cemeteries Program
- Preserving Grave Markers in Historic Cemeteries, National Park Service, Preservation Brief 48
- Best Practice Recommendations for Cleaning Government Issued Headstones, NPS, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Association for Gravestone Studies Listing of Stone Carvers & Professional Cemetery Conservators
- Basic Cleaning of Monuments (Video), Jason Church, NPS, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Resetting Ground Supporting Headstones (Video), Jason Church, NPS, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Dangers in a Cemetery (Video), Simeon Warren, Chief of Architecture and Engineering, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
Though this work focuses largely on Southern cemeteries, it does provide some important insights on African traditions that carried over into African American cemeteries in the United States.
- “African American Churches and Cemeteries in Pennsylvania, c1644-1970,” Shelby Splain, PA State Historic Preservation Office (2020)
- “The North Queen Street Cemetery and the African American Experience in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania,” Steven Burg, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic History, vol.77, Winter 2010, Penn State University Press.
- Volunteer Liability Waiver Form (Word File–For use whenever volunteers are working at your cemetery).
- Volunteer Event Information Form for Organizations (A handy form to share with groups and organizations interested in volunteering at your cemetery).