God’s Acre: Why African American Cemeteries Matter

Time Period
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
1877 to 1924
1925 to Today
Media Type
Black History
Lynn Rainville

On October 8 at noon, Lynn Rainville delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “God’s Acre: Why African American Cemeteries Matter.”

In her book, Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia, Lynn Rainville travels through the forgotten African American cemeteries of central Virginia to recover information crucial to the stories of the black families who lived and worked there for more than two hundred years. The subjects of Rainville’s research are not statesmen or plantation elites; they are hidden residents, people who are typically underrepresented in historical research but whose stories are essential for a complete understanding of our national past. Rainville studied above-ground funerary remains in more than 150 historic African American cemeteries in Virginia to provide an overview of mortuary and funerary practices from the late eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth. Combining historical, anthropological, and archaeological perspectives, she analyzes documents—such as wills, obituaries, and letters—as well as gravestones and graveside offerings. Rainville’s findings shed light on family genealogies, the rise and fall of segregation, and attitudes toward religion and death. As many of these cemeteries are either endangered or already destroyed, the book and this talk will include a discussion about the challenges of preservation and how Virginians may visit, and help preserve, these valuable cultural assets.

Lynn Rainville is a research professor in the humanities and the founding director of the Tusculum Institute for local history, located at Sweet Briar College. 

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.