Help Identify Enslaved People Buried in Unmarked Graves in National Park

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Feb 19, 2020

Researchers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in Tennessee recently came across a grave in the Hazel Creek area marked "A Black Man." About an hour away, near the Mingus Mill, six graves, marked with stones and thought to be a burial site of those enslaved in the 1800s, were also found. In a Facebook post published February 18, the organization asked the public for help putting names to the faceless Black folks who lived and died in the Rocky Mountains and Appalachia.

"It’s sort of hidden in plain sight," researcher Frank March told local television station WBIR. "A lot of people come up to the Mill and have no idea that it’s even here. We don’t know who’s buried here. We do know that they were slaves." According to WBIR, there are hundreds of cemeteries beyond the Mills’ trails, many of which do not have names.

While the National Park Foundation would like to include those in the unmarked graves to its growing African American Experience project, it admitted, via Facebook, that a lack of historical recording-keeping has created challenges. That’s why GSMNP is hoping the public will share passed down documents of Black ancestors who lived in the Great Smoky Mountains and Appalachia including birth and death records, family Bibles, personal journals and photos. To participate, contact Rhonda Wise of the National Park Service.