When you go searching for strange and spooky things, sometimes you find something sad and beautiful instead.
While wandering around Portsmouth NH, Lucinda and I found a statue that led us to something we never have expected to see on an urban downtown street.
Between a hair salon and a marketing company there stands a memorial to the dead and long forgotten. This stop on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail is the site of a long ignored “Negro Burying Ground.”
The plaque says in part: “In Colonial Portsmouth, segregation applied in death as in life.” City officials approved a burying ground for African-Americans at the edge of town. “By 1831, houses were built over the site.”
In 2003, during a building project, contractors unearthed crumbling wooden coffins full of human remains. There may be as many as 200 graves.
The building project stopped and a new project was started in its place – a memorial to those too long forgotten.
“This is not black history,” the plaque says. “This is our shared history.”
The memorial includes sculptures, historical information, and art tiles designed by Portsmouth schoolchildren. Inscribed on the figures are the words of a poem by Jerome Meadows:
“I stand for the Ancestors Here and Beyond
I stand for those who feel anger
I stand for those who were taken from their loved ones
I stand for those who suffered the middle passage
I stand for those who survived upon these shores
I stand for those who pay homage to this ground
I stand for those who find dignity in these bones.”
– Jerome Meadows, artist and sculptor
For more on the history, planning and preservation of the site visit the Portsmouth African Burying Ground website.