GREENVILLE, S.C. — They were buried more than 100 years ago, their bodies laid to rest on a steep hillside without tombstones. But these eternal resting spots were mostly forgotten to time.
Clemson University is working to find exactly who is buried in 604 unmarked graves —which undoubtedly belong to enslaved peoples, domestic workers, sharecroppers and convict laborers who lived, worked and died on the university’s land in the 1800s — found in the on-campus Woodland Cemetery.
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The discovery ignited a long-held, but not oft-discussed, truth about lands that once served as plantations, according to the site’s lead researcher.
“Long before a university or a college campus community, this place was an African American community,” university historian Paul Anderson said.
Now that the bulk of land surveying is complete, the university is working to discover who these people were, why they were forgotten and how Clemson can honor them, 100 years later.
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Using ground-penetrating radar, the university initially found 200 graves on the western and southern slopes of the cemetery, which sits in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, home to the university’s No. 1 ranked college football team.
But after surveying the entirety of the property, researchers found 604 unmarked graves, thought to date back more than 200 years ago.
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The grave sites dot every hill face of the cemetery, equal in number to the known grave sites, most of which were dug after 1920 when Woodland became the cemetery for Clemson trustees, presidents and faculty, according to the university.
The sheer volume of unmarked graves makes sense in the time frame it was likely used, said former Clemson trustee Jim Bostic, who’s been working with researchers since the project’s inception.
“Until 1924, this was an African American Cemetery,” Bostic said.
Records reveal at least 70 people died within a few months after whooping cough and measles swept through Fort Hill in 1865, Bostic said, and the discovery of graves at the top of the hill could mean slaves were buried there as early as 1810.
“So if you’re looking at a burial ground that might have been in use as early as that era (1810), then extended