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Resurrecting Love: The Cemetery That Can Heal a Nation

Posted June 28th, 2011 by

Sharon and I both love cemeteries. One important aspect of the work we’ve committed ourselves to along our healing journey involves burial grounds. We both turn our heads to check them out when we pass them in our cars. We’ll walk through them and read headstones whether we have relatives buried there or not. Over the past two years we have visited many cemeteries together. We’ve each made exciting discoveries of ancestors in several different states. We even learned that we both have relatives buried–not far from each other–in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

We’ve encountered segregated cemeteries as well as completely separate cemeteries for people of color. Many such cemeteries have long been neglected, forgotten, and even covered over, including some you may have read about in New York City and at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Fortunately, some long-forgotten burial grounds are being either restored or at least respectfully marked.

Love Cemetery is located in Harrison County in East Texas. I learned about it last October when I met China Galland, the author of Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves. Next up is a film based upon the book and events that have unfolded since the book was published in 2007. From the film’s website:

This is a story of the friendship two women who meet in East Texas, one white, China Galland, whose family moved there in 1900 to raise peaches, and one African American, Doris Vittatoe, whose family was brought there enslaved.

Stories of people trying to heal traumatic wounds from long ago continue to unfold in far-flung places throughout the United States. It’s hard work. It doesn’t always proceed smoothly. Doris and China’s friendship has been sorely tested.

Yet in the words of Dr. King that form the foundation for Coming to the Table, “the sons [and daughters] of former slaves and the sons [and daughters] of former slave owners [are sitting] down together at the table of brotherhood.” It’s a privilege to learn about people who are doing so, and to witness their unfolding. The story of Love Cemetery is one that I will follow closely. You can follow their progress on the film’s website and on Facebook.

Susan Glisson, the director of the William Winter Institute in Mississippi wrote about this story:

If racial justice and reconciliation are to be achieved, they will most certainly begin in the humble but profound relationships shared here.

3 responses to “Resurrecting Love: The Cemetery That Can Heal a Nation”

  1. Jim Bond says:

    I share your fascination with cemetaries. Several years ago I visited the Bond Family Cemetary near Ruston, Louisiana (near East Texas). Buried there are many of my relatives including my great-grandparents. My grandmother used to call visiting these sites as 'cemetary hopping'. Many genealogists chalk impressions from the headstones. I just got some pictures.

  2. Tom, my thanks for your thoughtful words about my work in East Texas. I marvel as I find your posts steadily tracking the road to reconciliation with sure feet and unwavering commitment. I read your book right after we met — devoured it, and was pleased by all you tell us in about the extraordinary story of your family and your journey into the past as successful traders in "the trade" — and was excited to know more about you and your family

    I just got back from East Texas this morning, Sunday, July 10th, 2011. The work on our documentary film, "Resurrecting Love, the Cemetery that Can Heal a Nation," continues.

    Our three-minute trailer "Love Cemetery Celebration" — provides a glimpse of the resolution emerging from working with Wiley College to create a larger sense of community for us all. Within our growing circle, Doris Vittatoe's promise to get back into Love after her mother was denied access, was finally fulfilled this March 20th, 2011. Now more family descendents are being discovered and at the end of this month, on July 30th, more are returning to honor their ancestors.

    My friendship with Doris Vittatoe has grown and been strengthened by our commitment to the larger world beyond Love Cemetery. The narrative of Resurrection we use now — its perils, possibilities and promise — drives us now to work more closely with young people, with the students, faculty, Trustees, and community around Wiley College in Marshall, TX (home of The Great Debaters).

    Last week we met at Wiley to discuss the possibilities for a forum to be held next September, 2012, 3rd or 4th week, to bring together many of the issues and people we've found along this backwoods path of healing — other cemeteries like Island Cemetery in Brazoria County, TX; Olivewood Cemetery in Houston; Bull Hill Cemetery in Marlin, TX, for example, with friends we've made at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York city, the Harvard Foundation in Cambridge; the San Francisco Theological Seminary & the Graduate Theological Union here in the Bay Area — people training for the ministry… the Sankofa community in Brooklyn… my time to finish this note is up and I've barely begun to mention the astonishing list of friends who've joined us — including Coming to the Table and your cousin Holly Fulton. I'm grateful to have you among us.

    The Forum will be held at Wiley College in Marshall, TX, next Sept. 2012, IF more funding comes in for the gathering. It would be great to have you and your work with us. Are you available the 3rd or 4th week in September? This a personal inquiry about your availability, not a formal invitation. Let me know.

    Best

    China

    Wiley Trustees, administration and students, Nate Parker is now an Executive Producer for our doc, Brian Favors (SANKOFA, NY), Dr. Mark Auslander, author of the forthcoming book, " The Accidental Slaveholder" … so many more to remember and to name! We're Especially heartened by being joined by members of Della Love's family — the donor of the land in 1904– Angelo Alexander, Allen Williams, Shundricka Love, Joyce Mack, and others from around the country.

  3. Pamela Singleton says:

    Ms. Galland, I was researching my family history and it lead me to your book, i went to a family reunion in harrison county texas in 2010 and we had 3 tour buses touring jonesville J.J. WEBSTERBLOCKER plantation where our ancestors were slaves and we ended up stopping by T.C. Lindsey store and tht`s where i found your book but at that time i was out of money due to the trip to the family reunion but one of my relatives that i told about the book bought it for me and i read tht book 3 times, you have so many of my relatives in that book, I felt like you were writing it for me…BY THE WAY…nuthrell is my grandfathers sister and she`s been very sick, i would like to meet you one day when you visit DALLAS TEXAS and talk to you concerning the movie that`s being produced, what better way to produce that type of movie with actors to play the parts of their own ancestors? i have researched so long to where i could do my own movie or book but i think you can benefit from what i have found…PAM 214-440-6314

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