Corps delays renovation of slave cemeteries discovered in spillway
Jonathan Menard - Mar 27, 2014
The fate of two African American cemeteries that were discovered in 1975 after the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway should become clearer later this year.
The Corps of Engineers originally planned to renovate the cemeteries in 2013, but the project was delayed due to conflicting information received from residents during a comment period in 2012, according to Dr. Chris Brantley, project manager of the spillway.
In 2012, the Corps held a series of public meetings to determine how to proceed in managing the Kenner and Kulger cemeteries, which appear to date from the early 1800s to 1928 and once adjoined two sugar plantations.
The cemeteries were originally established as burial places for slaves, according to the Corps. About 300 people are buried there, including Civil War Union Army veterans, in below-ground wooden coffins that originally had wooden, stone and iron markers.
Brantley said old maps of the area didn’t document the cemeteries at all.
“After the 1975 opening of the spillway is when we found the remains. Equipment was used to drain water from an area near the spillway and the equipment inadvertently went into the cemetery and exposed some of the remains,” he said.
The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and the parish coroner took possession of the unearthed bones because they first believed they could have been from a body that was dumped in the area.
“Then in 1985 there was a cultural resource study done. After going through a bunch of paperwork it was realized that they might have a cemetery and people buried in the area,” Brantley said.
At present, the sites are indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape, but planned site improvements will provide recognition and public access. Both sites were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The Corps originally planned renovations that include landscape and access improvements, planting trees and adding concrete boundary markers. Outdoor interpretive panels were going to be placed on the site with a history booklet focused on the people who lived in the area.
The plan also included reburial of Kenner Cemetery remains that were inadvertently disinterred in 1975. About 52 bones and fragments from at least five individuals were disturbed. According to a presentation in 2012, the consensus of the descendents of those buried in the cemetery was that the remains be reburied with a ceremony; the bones are currently in archeological storage.
Brantley said while the project is currently on hold, Corps officials will be briefed on the status of the project later this year.
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