PRESERVATION SOCIETY AWARDED NATIONAL PARK SERVICE GRANT TO MAP CHARLESTON’S BLACK BURIAL GROUNDS
The Preservation Society of Charleston (PSC) has been awarded an African American Civil Rights grant by the National Park Service to launch the “Mapping Charleston’s Black Burial Grounds” initiative. The PSC’s objective is to implement a community-led, open-source mapping project to produce a comprehensive inventory of Black burial grounds in the City of Charleston. A plan for implementing the federal funding will be developed collaboratively alongside community stakeholders and institutions.
While the City passed its first cemetery protection ordinance in 2021, there is currently no inventory of burial sites to ensure development is planned to avoid willful and unknowing desecration. The project team will work over the next two years to identify, research, and define the boundaries of burial sites to inform a data layer, which will be integrated into the City’s databases as a planning and preservation tool.
Long-time advocate for cemetery preservation and community advocate Fred Lincoln commented, “these are sacred grounds that are occupied by a people who sacrificed so much for the betterment of this country.” Lincoln’s and other community advocates efforts to protect cemeteries in the Cainhoy region in the wake of development pressures were a major impetus for the PSC’s proposal.
“This work ties into a broader national conversation,” said Brian Turner, President and CEO of the Preservation Society of Charleston. “our aim is to ensure proper care for the resting places of those who built our cities yet were denied equal access to land and financial resources. We have the opportunity now in Charleston to recognize burial sites as a core part of the landscape of historic places that deserve protection.”
The grant application was bolstered by letters of support from the International African American Museum (IAAM) and the City of Charleston.
Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, President and CEO of the IAAM, stated in her letter of support for PSC’s application, “we share the PSC’s vision to create strategy and structure to engage community such that members of Charleston’s African American communities are not only beneficiaries of this project, but creators and drivers of it.”
“The City’s collaborative work with the PSC on cemetery protection issues gives us confidence in the organization’s ability to effectively implement this grant,” noted City of Charleston Mayor, John J. Tecklenburg in a letter from last November. “Together we recognize the urgent need for more data and information about African American burial sites to help inform land-use planning so as to avoid harmful impacts to gravesites, especially those which are unmarked.”
Each burial site is a significant place of remembrance that conveys important truths of the American story and the stories of those who built our city. Yet because these sites are underrepresented in traditional historic surveys and, in many cases, undocumented, they are highly vulnerable to development pressures. Due to recent, unprecedented growth, Charleston is now challenged to recognize and ensure protections for these sites before they are lost.
Following the loss of Dr. Ade Ofunniyin, who was a leading voice in recognizing the immense cultural significance of Charleston’s Black burial sites, the PSC sees this work as a continuation of his important legacy in the Lowcountry.
This project is supported through an African American Civil Rights grant, provided by the Historic Preservation Fund, as administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. For a full list of grant recipients across the country and more information about the African American Civil Rights grant, visit And CLICK HERE to learn more about Daniel Island cemeteries