But the marker was removed on Monday after residents and students complained about the lack of a dedication ceremony.
These unmarked graveswere discovered with ground-penetrating radar in a project that began in 2012. The graves were discovered in an African-American section of the formerly segregated cemetery. For those who couldn’t afford tombstones, designating graves with unmarked stones was a common practice, which led to a problem with keeping accurate records.
The marker was erected on Feb. 4 in the cemetery to honor the 361 African Americans buried without markers.
Maria Palmer, Chapel Hill Town Council member and Cemetery Advisory Board member, said in an email to the town that she felt she had some part in creating the misunderstandings that led to the removal of the marker.
She said at the last Cemetery Advisory Board meeting, she offered to contact the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP to work on a dedication for the marker, but failed to follow through which led to no dedication being organized on time.
“Apparently, this was seen by some students as evidence of disrespect and exclusion, and complaints were made to the chancellor and to the state office of the NAACP, which then pressured the town to take down the marker,” Palmer said in the email.
Advisory board members and Town Council members were not informed of the decision to uproot the marker until it had already been removed. Town Manager Roger Stancil and Mayor Pam Hemminger made the decision to remove the marker, according to an email in the Town Council’s email archive.
“The action taken by the town yesterday is without any input from the board, or even notification from the town on pending action or action undertaken at the cemetery to the board,” said Steve Moore, chairperson of the Cemetery Advisory Board.
Jane Slater, another Cemetery Advisory Board member, said the monument was a first step in recognizing the nearly 400 disenfranchised and unidentified people buried at Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
“We had hoped for town and UNC responsiveness, with a service planned by all interested parties either at the monument’s installation or at a later date,” she said. “Until yesterday, I thought this was still in our future.”
Palmer said in her email to the town that she hopes those who have criticized and torn down the work of the Cemetery Advisory Board will now put in the work necessary to replace it.
“I will work to help the students and UNC leadership understand that the wonderful volunteers that serve our community faithfully as the Cemetery Board are selfless citizens, black and white, who seek to honor all those buried in our town-owned cemeteries,” she said. “And to shed light on their lives and legacies.”