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“G” is for Grave-site decoration

“G” is for Grave-site decoration. West Africans transported to South Carolina as slaves had their own belief system regarding death, burial, and the power of the living and the dead. Shiny or reflective materials like mirrors, silver painted objects and tin foil may have represented the desire to steer the spirit on a smooth passage over a body of water. Medicine bottles, dishes, and eating utensils—sometimes turned upside down and broken to possibly free the spirit and break the chain of death. Kerosene lanterns and lamps were sometimes placed to light the way of the spirit back home. Seashells were widely used on coastal burial sites in complex patterns—perhaps to confuse malevolent spirits. Although African American burial traditions have undergone a tremendous evolution, there still remains a subtle manifestation of African heritage in African American burial, mourning, and grave-site decoration practices.

Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar receivedhisA.B.degreefromDavidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.