©2014 by Brenda Marie Osbey
In Commemoration of the Discovery of the Remains of 67 African Americans, Interred beyond the Walls of the University Cemetery, University of Virginia
“that excluding students…enslaved African Americans were the largest pre-Civil War population residing at the Academical Village.”
remove topsoil cater close to the principle of uncovering both common and uncommon past monitor closely ensuing slow dig and soft-brushed stroke now inherent tools of this body of knowledge intending to reveal whatever of human society remains to be revealed beneath below tin wood and brick ceramicware long anonymous cloth and bits of iron, nail spindle and spoon tooth quarry stone bone and shard men women children useful things of everyday life beneath beyond. cemetery no doubt in other languages also is a graceful word death we know and sometimes causes, multiple causes of said deaths; burial, means or styles of conveyance to places of burial of those dead. measuring proximity of bodies singly and adjacent or cutting one upon another tells something of various indicators of longtime burial practice in specific or approximate or conjectured place. cumulative patterns of expression and material culture of souls, however, is an area with which neither this present and ongoing study nor any science we yet know of claims so far to be equipped to deal. interviews with known or presumed descendants can perhaps expose basic knowledge of belief, practice concepts of death desire afterlife beyond. slaves here are called servants many who write and talk such things do say that mr jefferson himself did call it so it does not change the conditions under which we labor within these bounds the uses we are put to the ways we die for keep of these grounds did call himself father to all this we build and tend did look on slavery they like to tell as but one necessary evil. did not say the others war mayhap in our way it is as children gone with tetanus and pneumonia women gone birthing strapping men felled down in typhoid or the consumption: violet, william and boy-bacchus tessa's hannah vanalie smothered, sleeping we all did hope strong mike and billy tom young and handsome then bloated over with the filthy bile limas old but also here with us and not alone eliza and baby eliza almost together woman over broadus' place some over maupin and perrow way. unknown they write and put away in ledger and book unknown but not to those who love and tend them in the end not by us not by rust-red earth soft-brushed by hands that carry and tend and sometimes pray sometimes not. as much science as we now possess it is yet difficult to advise beyond further study, determination for remains other than ancient bearing far more upon the living than we are at present prepared to suppose. sixty-seven is no small number. nor is the body neither less nor more than the soul's own passage. for here some have the one-soul and others the many some return straightaway to ancestors while others live on even as the body itself gives way such knowledge comes in those earliest nights when living and dead go to meet one another go out of an evening to sit and talk good talk. these things are sacred. and it is worse than wicked to disturb those going to talk well with their own. grave evil to prevent them from keeping good company with their own dead. in this place here is wickedness unimagined except to those who have no soul no dead to call home no ancestor to guide and receive them sixty-seven is no small number and no one of us can make a home where ancestors do not also live. it is well to consider that research design is one language, reverence another it is well to consider how further study in concert with broader nearer communities than these esteemed colleagues may impinge upon the potential weight of disinterment of removing for analysis at this time remains largely anonymous yet long consigned time to come drums yet may beat soft and low: tessa's hannah billy, strong mike beat soft beat low william tom, young and handsome still bacchus, violet beat soft beat low liza and baby liza old limas rooted deep as cypress close by surveying beyond what-all remains of this green embowered wood sweet-sleeping vanalie waking only to dream again feast-days to come beat soft beat low the evils of this place hardly more than memory trailing and neither slave nor servant then but as we are in these our truest skins together soft now and low inside this silty red and clayey soil.