Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground: Charleston's Famous Unknown Free Black Cemetery
Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 3:00pm

Spiro Hall 2, Wagner College
631 Howard Avenue (1 Campus Road), Grymes Hill
Staten Island, NY 10301
United States

Lecture by Dr. Rita Reynolds of Wagner College

The Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground was established in 1790 by a group of wealthy free men of color in Charleston, SC. In antebellum Charleston cemeteries were racially segregated. Free blacks who did not wish to be buried with slaves established their own burial grounds to allow them a degree of dignity in death. The BFS interned members and their families for roughly 150 years. Unfortunately the property was sold to the Catholic Diocese of Charleston in mid 1950′s after it fell into disuse. The remains were to be moved by the new owners of the property to a different location but only the headstones were and the bodies remained. The site was paved over and used as a parking lot for 50 years. Because no formal society cemetery records have survived anthropologist Michael Scholl and I have used Charleston city death records from 1829-1870 to illuminate what life was like for this segment of society. We were able to extract details about living conditions, gender disparities, infant mortality, overall health, medical treatment and to a lesser degree, attitudes about class and race when it came to burial of some of the slaves owned by wealthy free people of color.

Rita Reynolds is a 19th and 20th century historian of African-American and American history who received an Master Degrees from NYU and UCLA.  She earned her doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and currently teaches courses at Wagner College that focus on the minority experience, gender and cultural history, as well as the history of Modern Civil Rights Movement, New York City history and American religion.

Professor Reynolds scholarship focuses on Charleston’s wealthy free black community in South Carolina during slavery.  Within this time period she is also interested in issues of gender, power and slavery in the South, and free people of color in the northern states. Dr. Reynolds is originally from the NYC area and is preparing her manuscript on a 19th century wealthy free black family in Charleston to be published in early 2014.

Lecture followed by coffee reception.

Contact Information
Dr. Peter Russo
(917) 446-2057


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