If You Walk Through This Cemetery You May Stumble Onto Black History

September 9, 2019

The area that became Newport, Rhode Island was unique in key ways for Black people in the 1700s. 

Although white farmers actively participated in the slave trade, both free and enslaved Africans residing in the area found equality in a resting place known as God’s Little Acre.

Part of Newport’s Common Burial Ground, God’s Little Acre was home to over 450 Black ancestral remains. 

During a time where enslaved Africans were being rapidly sold up and down the eastern seaboard, here was a community that didn’t believe in segregated cemeteries.

Care of God’s Little Acre was organized by the African Union Society, a group founded by free Africans living in the colony who used the society as a voice to protect Black victims of discrimination. 

One crucial matter that the African Union Society insisted on was grave markers for loved ones that included full names, birth and death dates, familial ties and occupations. Such a small request had a lasting impact on Black history.

The lives of enslaved Africans typically were not given the dignity of being commemorated in this way. 

But thanks to the thoughtful foresight of the African Union Society, markers that can still be visited today ensure that genealogists, archaeologists, and families alike can reliably research Black history relevant to colonial times and beyond.

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