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Woodland Cemetery Historic Preservation

Frequently Asked Questions

Research Methods

  • How is research being conducted for the cemetery?

    This is an ongoing research project that uses interdisciplinary research methods. Our goals are to understand who might be buried in the cemetery, what happened to the landscape of the cemetery over time, and how Clemson University has impacted the cemetery. The historical research methods we use are also varied. We draw upon the methods of social history and biographies, institutional history, and environmental history. This work requires a combination of oral history and community engagement, archival research, genealogy, and digital history. In addition to historical research, this project draws upon ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology, historical archaeology, cultural studies, digital media, civil engineering, and the history of health and medicine. These different approaches are needed to understand the multilayered histories of the African American Burial Ground and Woodland Cemetery.

  • What primary sources are used to research the history of the cemetery?

    We use a variety of primary sources to research the history of the African American Burial Ground and Woodland Cemetery. These sources include:

    • Oral histories
    • Census data
    • Newspapers
    • Death records including death certificates and funeral records
    • Maps
    • Photographs including aerial photographs of campus
    • Church records including meeting minutes
    • Plantation documents such as deeds and property inventories
    • Sharecropper contracts
    • Letters
    • Diaries and other manuscripts
    • Institutional meeting minutes and campus history documents
    • Legal documents including court orders
    • Military records
    • Artifacts from archaeological excavations
  • What is ground penetrating radar (GPR)?

    Learn about ground penetrating radar (GPR) and how GPR was conducted for this project on the Project History page.

    See also Conyers, Lawrence B. Interpreting Ground-Penetrating Radar for Archaeology. London: Routledge, 2016 for more information.

  • How do you research the history of those buried in the unmarked graves?

    There are limitations to what we can know regarding the burials we have recovered. We believe they were all Africans or African Americans, including those who were enslaved, sharecroppers, domestic laborers, convicted laborers, as well as wage workers and their families who lived and worked on this land for over 200 years. Our intent is not to excavate any burials. The red clay soil at the cemetery is so acidic that organic matter disintegrates about 70 years after burial. A ground penetrating radar (GPR) report indicates where the burials are located and the general size of the grave, which provides rough information on the number of adult and child burials. This data helps us understand population demographics and death rates. Our main source of information, apart from references to enslaved or emancipated people in documents like property inventories or sharecropper contracts, are descendants of those who may be buried here and their family histories. We will likely never know who is buried where or which burials were the oldest or the newest, but we may be able to document names of individuals who rest here.

  • How can I help with research?

    We welcome volunteers who want to aid with aspects of our ongoing research project. You can email us at afamburials@clemson.edu to ask how to help. Our current volunteers are reading primary and secondary texts on topics like Indigenous history of upstate South Carolina and working through digitized editions of the campus newspaper The Tiger to note important events in campus history and their impact on African American communities in the immediate area. Opportunities may exist for transcription of manuscript collections or other tasks as they are relevant to current needs of our project.

  • How can I access the research collections to learn more?

    We have prepared a curated list of research and educational resources to learn more about the cemetery’s history, Native American and African American history in South Carolina, Clemson University history, the history of health and medicine, ground penetrating radar (GPR), and other topics: Research and Teaching Resources page.

Community Engagement

  • How does this project define "community"?

    The cemetery project takes a broad view of the Clemson community, which you can read about on the Community Engagement page. Initially, community engagement for this project was focused on engaging the descendant African American community to learn from their knowledge about the cemetery and who might be buried in the recently-recovered burials. Since that first stage, we have broadened community engagement efforts to include descendants of the known burials; students, faculty, staff, and administrators who live and work at Clemson; and all members of the Clemson and Clemson University communities. We believe that everyone with a connection to Clemson should know about this history and help us in sharing what we know.

  • How is Clemson engaging with local communities?

    The cemetery project has a Community Engagement Council that meets monthly to provide feedback on our goals and activities and helps set the direction of our future research. We hold community events that share our sources and new findings and encourage the public to find creative ways to engage with the cemetery space. We also have listening sessions and community dialogues to help us learn what the community hopes will come out of the cemetery project. We believe that the community knows about the history of the cemetery, and we want their voices to supplement and correct what we uncover in archival records. The project engages the campus community by providing cemetery tours to classes and partnering with campus departments to facilitate engagement with the cemetery and all aspects of Clemson history. We also engage with community institutions around the Upstate to help them discover and share how Clemson’s history reaches beyond the grounds of the university. We also believe that community engagement necessitates restorative justice and work with our community partners to identify ways for Clemson to support projects in the community that will benefit people and institutions historically underserved by the university’s programs.

  • How can I schedule a cemetery tour?

    We offer tours on select Tuesdays and Fridays during the Fall 2022 semester. Group tours are for a maximum of 60 people. You can view available tours on our Tour Calendar and you can register for a tour using our registration form. Those unable to attend a tour in person are encouraged to explore our virtual engagement page.

  • What resources do you have for teachers?

    The Call Me MISTER program at Clemson University has developed lessons plans for teachers wanting to use Clemson history as part of their curriculum. Once these resources are available they will be posted to this website. You can also explore our Research and Teaching Resources page.

  • How can I help with the cemetery project?

    Clemson students are welcome to join the cemetery’s Creative Inquiry class each semester and work in our paid research and community engagement student positions (spots are limited). We will continue to work with local writers, artists, and others to encourage groups to creatively engage with the cemetery space. University and community members can fill out volunteer applications to help us with research projects or to serve as a volunteer cemetery tour guide. As we increase our community engagement conversations, we are looking for people to help us facilitate community dialogues. You can become a dialogue facilitator by filling out this application.

    Clemson and other university faculty who would like to help with the project or teach about the cemetery are encouraged to review our resources page, which provides some materials for teaching about the class. Please also contact members of the cemetery project if you would like to schedule a tour or have someone speak to your class about our project.

    Community members and Clemson staff are also welcome to work with us as researchers, tour guides, and dialogue facilitators. We are also happy to partner with community institutions and organizations interested in sharing this history.

  • How can I stay informed about upcoming events?

    You can explore upcoming campus events related to the project on the Clemson calendar. Explore our Local Community Events calendar on the homepage for events sponsored by our community partners. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter. Also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Preservation and Memorialization

  • How will Clemson preserve and memorialize the unmarked graves?

    With the input of community members, the cemetery project plans to install permanent grave markers for all of the unknown burials. We will also engage the community to build a commemorative memorial to the history of the cemetery.

  • What are the steps Clemson has taken to protect the unmarked graves?

    Clemson University has increased security measures around the cemetery, especially on game days. Signs around the cemetery acknowledge that this is the site of an African American burial ground. To protect the significant number of graves beneath Cemetery Way and beneath the interior paved road, Clemson has installed barricades to prevent motor vehicles and bikes from driving over the graves. Eventually, Clemson will construct alternate pathways through the cemetery. These will enable people to move through the cemetery without treading upon unmarked graves. We are committed to not disturbing any known or recently-recovered burials in the cemetery.

  • Does Clemson have a preservation plan for the cemetery?

    The cemetery team is currently working on a multi-stage preservation plan for the cemetery project. This process involves hiring outside consultants to help devise the plan, and it will also involve cataloging all aspects of the cemetery including its boundaries, environment, and the number, location, and condition of known and recently recovered graves. The final preservation plan will help ensure that the cemetery does not again fall into a state of disrepair.

  • Who is responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery?

    Everyone who visits Woodland Cemetery is responsible for ensuring that this site remains a sacred place. This encompasses all areas between the parking lots, Press Road, and Williamson Road, including the wooded areas. Woodland Cemetery is not a perpetual care cemetery. This means that the University is not responsible for maintaining the condition of headstones. That responsibility falls on the families, descendants, friends, or others who care about the deceased. The cemetery’s grounds are maintained by University Facilities.

The Woodland Cemetery and African American Burial Ground Historic Preservation Project
The Woodland Cemetery and African American Burial Ground Historic Preservation Project | The cemetery is located on Woodland Drive at the intersection of Williamson Road and S. Palmetto Boulevard on the Clemson University campus. The team's offices are located in Suite 220 in Sirrine Hall.