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UNF works to restore the rich history of Red Hill Cemetery

surveyors at red hill cemeteryThe Red Hill Cemetery Project, a collaborative venture between UNF and the Okefenokee Heritage Center, has recently been awarded a $20,000 Foundation Board Initiative Grant to assist in documenting and archiving the oldest African American cemetery in Waycross, Georgia. With as many as two thousand burials, some of them dating from the 1800s, the cemetery memorializes the lives and struggles of an African American community during a period of monumental political, social, and cultural change.

Since the project began in 2018, project director Dr. David Sheffler, chair and associate professor of history, has gathered a team of faculty and staff from the departments of anthropology, archaeology, English and history as well as graduate students to begin photographing, surveying, and mapping the cemetery. This project offers many learning opportunities for all, and provides students with real-world experience and the opportunity to contribute information that will memorialize those buried in the cemetery.

Thus far, Sheffler and his team have successfully completed several mapping projects of the cemetery and its surrounding land. In addition, UNF students, faculty, and staff have begun the documentation process of the project by traveling to the Okefenokee Heritage Center to collect vital information from death certificates and Ware County's "book of the dead" in which age, race, cause of death, and place of birth are noted.

Upcoming project activities include conducting in-person interviews with surviving friends and family members to create oral histories of those buried in the cemetery, continuing site mapping to create an accurate representations of the cemetery and gravesites, and using all relevant information to create a user-friendly virtual cemetery that allows researchers, visitors and stakeholders to click on specific burial sites and retrieve all the available information (location, photos, death certificates, obituaries, short biography).

Though UNF won’t be working to restore the cemetery, Sheffler and those involved see the project as a way to show respect for past generations and record often-neglected voices before they fall irretrievably silent. More information and timely updates on the Red Hill Cemetery Project can be found on the project’s official website.