Black History Month: Volunteers work to preserve historical Black burial site in Durham

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A group of volunteers, Friends of Geer Cemetery, is preserving a historical black burial site in the Triangle.

Geer Cemetery is the oldest public cemetery for African Americans in Durham. It is the final resting place for nearly 2,000 between 1877 to 1944, many of whom experienced slavery and the inhumanity of Jim Crow laws in the South.

The cemetery was not kept up for decades, but through the work of the Friends of Geer Cemetery, it is being restored and preserved. The group also holds tours educating visitors about the people buried at Geer, many played a pivotal role in founding institutions in Durham including North Carolina Central University.

"We feel it's very important that their legacies are told," said Debra Taylor Gonzales-Garcia, who is the president of the Friends of Geer group.

The volunteer organization has partnered with Durham Marble Company, The Eagle Scouts, and other community organizations for clean-ups. The work at Geer Cemetery is part of a movement to preserve and restore Black cemeteries across the country.

"All across the South and towns big and small like Durham, Richmond (Virginia), even this story of African Americans making their own cemeteries, their own burial places their own sacred places, is a story that's repeated over and over again," said Tom Miller, Friends of Geer Treasurer. "It's the stories. That's the most important thing."

Friends of Geer Cemeteries is always looking for volunteers or partner organizations to work at the 4-acre site and also do genealogical research.

Funding is part of the preservation process and the group is hoping federal legislation will soon be passed through The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act to help fund efforts to restore cemeteries like Geer across the country.
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