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Email to Phil Frances, Superintendent, Blue Ridge Parkway

Online: September, 2012

Sent: Tue 6/1/2010 4:04 PM
From: Bob Heafner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Cc:
Subject: The Slave Meadow Cemetery

Mr. Phil Francis, Superintendent
Blue Ridge Parkway
199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803-8686.
Reach park headquarters by phone at: (828) 271-4779

June 1, 2010

Dear Mr. Frances:

As I'm sure you know, I have been advocating for the African-American cemetery located on National Park Service land in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, to be restored or at least a monument or marker be erected, to acknowledge that the meadow is an African-American cemetery.

The fact that the meadow is an African-American cemetery has been substantiated by numerous accounts including your own research. The fact that the National Park Service owned the property at the time the original gravestones were removed is indisputable.

In no way do I wish to imply that the current staff of the Blue Ridge Parkway is responsible for the removal of the original headstones. The graves were desecrated years ago when the Blue Ridge Parkway was being constructed. However, the fact remains, if it had not been for the NPS and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the gravestones marking the graves of these African-Americans would be there today.

Correcting this unfortunate situation is your responsibility as Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is not a matter of just keeping with Park policy or simply ignoring what's right; it is a matter of the integrity of the National Park Service. Do you allow such an injustice as this to be perpetrated and go uncorrected in the most visited National Park in America?

Bambi Teague told me that congressional approval would be required to place a monument in the meadow. (See Email Chain at
http://www.mtnlaurel.com/slaves/chronological_list_of_actions.htm)

I then asked, "Would the Blue Ridge Parkway support an independent effort to secure congressional approval to erect a monument in The Slave Meadow? If not, why not?"

Bambi replied, "No, we would not want a monument at the slave cemetery.  It is not in keeping with the cultural landscape the park has developed.  Also, there is no where to pull off to park to inspect."

For her to say that the NPS would not want a monument or marker in this African-American cemetery because it would not be in keeping with the "cultural landscape the park has developed" is deeply troubling. One would think the NPS would want to adhere to the true cultural heritage along the Blue Ridge Parkway, rather than ignore the existence of this cemetery and follow a plan of discrimination that the "park has developed."

Her statement that "there is no where to pull off to park to inspect" a monument or marker is completely missing the point of why this issue is important. Somewhere there are descendants or relatives of the people buried in The Slave Meadow Cemetery and a marker would serve to give them a link to their past.

I often think of the story that I heard years ago about a "well dressed" Black lady who came to Meadows of Dan in the late 1950s searching for the graves of her ancestors. She was directed to the area where the African-Americans are buried, she found a place to park, but she only found an empty field with nothing to indicate where the graves were. The simple fieldstone markers that once marked her ancestor's graves had been desecrated, thrown away by the National Park Service, the very people charged with preserving the cultural heritage of our country.

During the Ted Coyle interview of me, I got the impression that the Blue Ridge Parkway didn't want to create an appearance of segregation with the White people being buried in the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church Cemetery and the African-Americans all buried in a hayfield on National Park Service land. You can listen to the interview at http://www.mtnlaurel.com/slaves/Interview.htm.

One can only imagine how the lady who was looking for the burial place of her family must have felt, with the well mowed and maintained White section of the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church cemetery adjoining the un-mowed, unmarked National Park Service land where her African-American ancestors lay buried. Do you not suppose that what she found was the true face of segregation and discrimination?

I personally do not think that congressional approval is needed to right the wrong that occurred so many years ago and is still being perpetrated by the Blue Ridge Parkway and the NPS today. You, as Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, surely have the authority to maintain this African-American cemetery at least as well as the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church maintains the White graves. You at least have the authority to stop treating a cemetery as an "Agricultural Lease," allowing tractors to run over graves in order to harvest hay from them.

The grave locations the NPS has identified are not where numerous old people in the area have said the African-Americans are buried. Bambi Teague told me in her email of Wed 4/7/2010 1:43 PM, that you have a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) map "showing the exact locations that were tested using GPR." Yet, when I asked for a copy of the map she told me, "The GPR data for the grave locations would be considered sensitive information, and we do not share sensitive information with the public." Why would you consider a map showing grave locations in this African-American cemetery "sensitive information?"

The Blue Ridge Parkway has segregated this cemetery, Black from White, by a property boundary line and not only refuses to erect a monument or marker, to acknowledge those buried in the cemetery, but won't even mow and maintain the African-American cemetery with the respect and dignity that all cemeteries deserve and that the adjacent White cemetery receives.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, the NPS and the Department of the Interior are standing at a crossroads; you can continue the present course of blatant discrimination or you can do what's right. Ask yourself; if these people were your ancestors would you want to have their final resting place completely erased and tractors mowing hay off their graves?

The continued refusal of the Blue Ridge Parkway to end this discrimination and acknowledge this African-American cemetery and maintain it, as such, is a stain on the reputation of the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway; and it will only continue to spread.

Mr. Frances, I have no reason to believe that you are not a man of honor and integrity. As such, it's time for you, as Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, to finally put a stop to the endless excuses, and contradictory justifications, cited by your staff as reasons for continuing this blatant policy of racial discrimination. Please take the honorable path and treat the graves of these African-Americans with the respect due anyone's final resting place.

As for me, I intend to continue advocating for the reversal of this wrong for as long as I live, or until the Blue Ridge Parkway corrects this terrible injustice. My goal now is to publicize, by all means possible, the discriminatory behavior of the NPS and the Blue Ridge Parkway regarding this historic African-American cemetery. I firmly believe that, eventually, public outrage will compel the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park Service to do what's only descent and morally right.

However, I would much rather be driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, than fighting this senseless battle. I hope you feel the same.

What do you plan to do?

Thank you in advance for your prompt reply.

Sincerely,

Bob Heafner
http://www.mtnlaurel.com/slaves/slave_meadow.htm
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