ABSTRACT

Pennsylvania’s historic African American cemeteries share common physical characteristics with Black cemeteries found in other regions of the United States. However, the Commonwealth’s unique history, culture, and geography have influenced these sites’ material culture and shaped them into unique landscapes with distinctive features. This article begins by examining the historical forces that contributed to the creation of more than 150 separate burial grounds across the state. It then considers five characteristics that together make Pennsylvania’s African American cemeteries distinctive. These include: (1) the cemeteries’ open spaces and significant number of unmarked graves; (2) grave marking traditions; (3) the presence of Pennsylvania state-issued veteran grave markers; (4) the existence of church buildings and ruins, and (5) the scars of indifference and racism that led to the abuse or destruction of many historic Black burial grounds. Collectively, these elements shaped Pennsylvania’s unique African American funerary landscape.

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