Saving a History Etched in Stone
Chronicle News Services
WASHINGTON--It is a tale of two cities of the dead. Two historic cemeteries lie side by side in Georgetown, separated by an overgrown dirt road, a rusting chain-link fence and two centuries of racial history.
On one side is Oak Hill, a lush slope of well-tended graves of congressmen, publishers and cabinet members who were, with few exceptions, white. On the other side is the Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society Cemetery. There, broken gravestones lie in large piles and dogs and their owners have taken the place of mourners for the slaves, freedmen and mostly Black citizens buried below.
“There’s a quote: ‘Death reflects life, it’s not separate and apart,’” said Vincent deForest, a civil rights activist turned preservationist who has fought since the early 1970s to rescue Mount Zion. On a recent morning, to underscore the immortality of inequality, he stood in the Black cemetery and pointed to the white cemetery.
“There,” he said, “we have a perfect reminder.”
Mr. deForest knows better than most. As the president of the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation, which promoted minority involvement in the 1976 bicentennial, and later as a special assistant to the director of the National Park Service, he helped put the cemetery and dozens of other sites of importance to African-Americans on the National Register of Historic Places, at a time when there were
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