By Mike Wadsworth
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – Friends gathered on a small plot of land just off Folly Road and Country Club Drive to remember their ancestors on Tuesday.
They were there to celebrate the final day of Kwanzaa and to keep centuries of ancestors alive in their hearts forever.
You might not notice this particular location for the Charleston celebration to be historically significant at all. The only sign marking the land sits 20 to 30 yards from the road, reading "Sacred Burial Site of Our African Ancestors," with streaks of stripped paint across the letters. But historically significant and spiritually significant is this piece of land for African Americans in the Lowcountry.
"One of the things that makes this particular place so unique is that about 17 years ago, the City of Charleston owned this property. They wanted to build a fire station on this property so that it would be able to serve the people better in James Island. Well as they started digging, they found one body, then two – until they dug up over 100 bodies and that's when they realized that this was a cemetery," said Bob Smalls with the Charleston Lowcountry Kwanzaa Planning Committee.
The African American cemetery was the burial site for hundreds of slaves on the McLeod Plantation, which is across the street on Country Club Drive.
The Plantation was founded in 1678, making it one of the oldest in the state of South Carolina, and the final resting place for first-generation Africans here in America.
"The roots here run very, very deep. So we come here to pay homage to those who came before us, those who survived on a ship six to eight weeks in some of the most deplorable conditions and yet they made it. So as we stand here, we are the product of their strength because if they had not made it, we would not be here today doing this," said Smalls at the ceremony on Tuesday.
Those who took part in the ceremony dressed in traditional African garb and played music on African drums.
Smalls sprinkled water over the grounds of the old cemetery, a demonstration known as a libation, as others spoke names of friends and family that have passed away.
"[At the Charleston Lowcountry Kwanzaa Planning Committee] we try to provide stuff that's not just entertainment, but educational, like here. It's something that we want people to know about," said Smalls.
The last day of Kwanzaa is called Imani which means faith. To celebrate Imani and a Karamu Ya Imani (feast of feasts), the community gathered at the Ferndale Community Center in North Charleston on Tuesday night.
"Kwanzaa this year has been special," said Charlene Holbeck with the Charleston Lowcountry Kwanzaa Planning Committee. "We thank the community of Charleston and the Lowcountry area here for participating in our Kwanzaa this year 2012."