Hidden History – African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia
In Hidden History, Lynn Rainville travels through the forgotten African American cemeteries of central Virginia to recover information crucial to the stories of the black families who lived and worked there for over two hundred years. The subjects of Rainville’s research are not statesmen or plantation elites; they are hidden residents, people who are typically underrepresented in historical research but whose stories are essential for a complete understanding of our national past.
Rainville studied above-ground funerary remains in over 150 historic African American cemeteries to provide an overview of mortuary and funerary practices from the late eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth. Combining historical, anthropological, and archaeological perspectives, she analyzes documents—such as wills, obituaries, and letters—as well as gravestones and graveside offerings. Rainville’s findings shed light on family genealogies, the rise and fall of segregation, and attitudes toward religion and death. As many of these cemeteries are either endangered or already destroyed, the book includes a discussion on the challenges of preservation and how the reader may visit, and help preserve, these valuable cultural assets.
About Lynn Rainville (Chicago, Illinois Author)
Lynn Rainville is a research professor and the founding director of the Tusculum Institute for local history, located at Sweet Briar College. Although her PhD is in Near Eastern archaeology, she has spent the last two decades studying historic American cemeteries, segregated schools, enslaved communities, poor farms, and ancient Assyrian households. She has synthesized this research through online databases, crowd-sourced inventories, and dozens of publications (compiled at lynnrainville.org). She is the author of several books, including Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2014), Virginians in the Great War: One State’s Role in Mobilizing for, Fighting, and Commemorating World War I (McFarland Press, 2018), and Invisible Founders: Two Centuries of African American Labor at Sweet Briar (Berghahn Press, Forthcoming 2018). Her research has been supported by numerous foundations including the NSF, NEH, Wenner-Gren, Mellon, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.