Louisiana Residents Say No to Plastics Factory Being Built on Enslaved Burial Sites

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Mar 12, 2020

While standing on the site Formosa Plastics wants to build a $9.4 billion facility on, Sharon Lavign, community director of Louisiana’s predominantly Black RISE St. James Parish, announced the release of a new report through the Center for Constitutional Rights, showing that Formosa knowingly chose to build on the graves of the Black bodies chained to the land more than a century ago.

In a Facebook video uploaded March 11, Lavign alleges the company “has repeatedly searched in the wrong place for the burial sites,” making her “doubt that Formosa Plastics is serious about locating and preserving our ancestors.” 

The report, which was prepared by the environmental and archeological services firm Coastal Environments, Inc., (CEI), discovered as many as seven cemeteries that may be burial grounds of enslaved people. The sites, which also included a cemetery on the former Buena Vista Plantation, were discovered by CEI researchers who were first told of two cemeteries on the Formosa site by the Louisiana Division of Archaeology. CEI was able to locate these burials with the help of detailed maps from 1877 and 1878 and a process known as cartographic regression.

“The enslaved people in these gravesites had no choice in where they lived, where they worked, where they died, and where they were buried,” Lavigne said in a press release. “Our ancestors are crying out to us from their graves—they are telling us to not let industry disturb their burial sites. Formosa Plastics did not inform the citizens of St. James or the parish council of the existence of the graves when they knew—they don’t care, they just want to profit from St. James Parish.”

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Formosa—which it claims knew about the graves since 2018—would “double the level of toxic emissions in St. James, which already has among the highest in the country.” CEI also confirmed that hundreds of enslaved people had been forced to live on the plantations that are now the site that Formosa wants to build on.  

“The significance of this discovery for descendants, and for history, cannot be overstated,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “All cemeteries are important; and even more so when the graves of people enslaved here were once believed lost to history. Now they may be found. This land has a value and meaning that should be honored and protected against this kind of harmful development that will only serve to destroy rather than help build the community of descendants of those from whom so much was taken.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page. Watch the full video announcement on Facebook.