A Tale of Two Cemeteries: Visiting Laurel Grove

13 October 2021

Cal Mitchell

On Wednesday, our group spent the afternoon in Savannah at Laurel Grove Cemeteries. Originally one, Laurel Grove Cemetery was separated into two separate cemeteries in 1853. The city of Savannah reserved 4 acres to Laurel Grove South for the local African American community. Compared to the 90 acres allotted to Laurel Grove North, where the white community is buried, the small land given to Laurel Grove South was prone to flooding, mosquitoes, and poor drainage, making it the least ideal place to bury the dead. However, the African American community in Savannah took ownership of their new cemetery and decided to move the bodies of some of the most prominent black figures in the area to Laurel Grove South.

Grave markers for the prominent religious figures buried in Laurel Grove South, photo by author.

During this visit, our class compared and contrasted the physical layout of the two cemeteries, their similarities and differences, and what these mean in a larger context.

The visit to Laurel Grove Cemetery connected many of our course concepts and general themes engrained in this course. The disciplines of spirituality, history, and cultural studies all apply when looking at the two cemeteries in Laurel Grove. As a cemetery, religion and spirituality are expressed in many of the graves in both cemeteries. History is embodied in the many significant figures found in the cemetery.

The gravesite of Westley Wallace Law, the first president of the NAACP in Savannah.

Further, the theme of isolation is the most prevalent when comparing the two cemeteries. Most significantly, the two cemeteries are now physically isolated from one another. Split between a highway connector, the two cemeteries have separate entrances, signifying a distinct isolation between the two. Yet, it seems that the African American community took pride in the unfair allocation of land in the cemeteries. This feeling reminded me of a quote by Queen Quet, a Gullah Geechee woman who claimed, “you may not claim us, but we’re still going to claim you” (Water is Life Article).

Upon reflection, this experience allowed me to make many discoveries about Southern history and the idea of taking ownership of something. Above all, I found that many places in the South still struggle to tell the entirety of its history. This concept was not new to me, as someone from the South, but I assumed that in this day and age, the story would have been told. I do believe that a lot of these places are teaching much more than they used to, but there still is a lot of work to be done. Furthermore, I was profoundly impacted by the pride and ownership taken in Laurel Grove South. Despite the small amount of low-quality land given to the African American community by the city of Savannah, this community took ownership and pride of their cemetery. I was originally confused as to why so many deceased were moved to this cemetery when it was created, but I found over time that there is great benefit in taking ownership of something, regardless of the circumstance. This pride leads to a stronger community and culture, in my opinion, and I believe this was reflected in Laurel Grove South Cemetery.