The Black Baptist Cemetery--now part of the African American Heritage Park-- was created in 1885 by the Silver Leaf ("Colored") Society of Alexandria, one of the many burial associations formed by African Americans in the late 19th century. For a small weekly premium, cemetery associations covered the costs of a casket, burial garments, and funeral service. A ritual with special importance in African-American communities in the antebellum South, funerals provided a rare opportunity for blacks to gather and socialize. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, mourning and burial practices embodied traditions of mutual aid and cooperation.
Researchers in the early 1990s found numerous clam and oyster shells as well as ceramics buried around coffins in the cemetery, possibly a continuation of an African burial practice of placing offerings on top of graves. More than 20 burials were identified on the site and six headstones were unearthed. Researchers concluded that the site had been in use as a burial ground since before the Civil War.
In the mid-19th century, the site was part of the village of West End, a 1780s settlement of white tradesmen and butchers that did not become part of Alexandria until 1915. There is ample evidence, however, of a substantial African-American presence just across the border in Alexandria. Before the Civil War, both enslaved and Free Blacks lived in tenements on the six-block section of Duke Street northeast of the cemetery site. Two of the country's most prosperous slave trading operations, Franklin & Armfield and Bruin & Hill, were located in the same stretch of Duke Street. By the late 19th century, the African-American settlement was concentrated in areas further east and north of the cemetery, but by that time it had become customary to locate cemeteries on the outskirts of town.
Today the Black Baptist Cemetery is part of the nine-acre African American Heritage Park, located between Holland Land and Hooff's Run Drive south of Duke Street and just west of Alexandria National Cemetery.
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500 Holland Lane