If you’re in Baltimore and you see a small group of prisoners wearing green jumpsuits and swinging two-foot machetes, thank them—they’re saving history. Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine reports on the effort to clean up the city's oldest African American burial ground—originally dedicated as the “City of the Dead for Colored People” and later called the Mount Auburn Cemetery—which it describes as “a botanical nightmare, its tombstones enveloped in a wild morass of timber, trash, rampant overgrowth, and tangled vines as thick as a hawser line.”
Now joined by university students with sonar instruments for aligning markers to their proper graves, the prisoners have been hacking through the “wild morass” for months, occasionally encountering coffins pushed close to the sod by roots and even the occasionally human bone emerging from the earth.
The cemetery is home to freed slaves, Afro-American newspaper founder John Henry Murphy, and boxing legend Joe Gans. And it is home to countless men like Anthony L. Brown, who was buried in 1972 at the age of nineteen:
Tony Brown was one of the great Dunbar High School basketball players and a member of the Poets’ 1971-72 team, which went undefeated in his senior year. He received offers from most of the major basketball colleges in the country, only to be stabbed to death by a girlfriend before choosing a school. He is buried beneath a couple of short two-by-fours nailed into a cross, painted white and inscribed in black marker: Anthony L. Brown, 11.18.53-03.28.72—Better Known as ‘Tony the Tiger.’ Dunbar Basketball Star.
Want to see this incredible place? We rustled around a bit and turned up gallery on the Preservation Alliance, Inc. website and a Flickr set of photographs from Mount Auburn Cemetery:
Images by Patty Boh.