City Cast

Unearthing Black Georgetown

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on August 17
Mt. Zion Cemetery at the intersection of 27th and Q streets NW, in Georgetown.

Mt. Zion Cemetery at the intersection of 27th and Q streets NW, in Georgetown. (APK/Wikimedia Commons)

The oldest Black cemeteries in D.C. are located in Georgetown and are the only two cemeteries left in the city that hold people who died in slavery.

Last month, a little girl’s grave was found vandalized at Mount Zion Cemetery right after the community’s Juneteenth ceremony. “Nannie,” was believed to be a 7-year-old Black girl buried in 1856 and people often brought tokens and gifts to leave at her grave. The grave and tokens were found burned.

Sadly, disrespectful treatment of these stones is nothing new. Historical prejudice meant that the once all-white Oak Hill Cemetery next door was better protected and preserved than the all-Black cemeteries next door. Now, the organization Black Georgetown is unearthing and researching hundreds of forgotten headstones.

“Nannie’s” gravestone right after being vandalized.

“Nannie’s” gravestone right after being vandalized. (blackgeorgetown/Instagram)

“We had a workshop [on] how to restore the markers. We’ve been putting them together, cleaning them, and we found a hundred markers and artifacts,” said Lisa Fager, the Executive Director of Black Georgetown.

The cemeteries are also historic because of the role they played as part of the Underground Railroad.

“We know for a fact that Mount Zion Cemetery has a vault where people would hide on the underground railroad that you can see to this day,” added Fager.

Black Georgetown is also curating a database about the thousands of people buried in the cemeteries and their living relatives. It’s a project uniquely possible in D.C. because of how slavery was abolished here. Learn more about the historic research on our podcast.

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