State to search for unmarked black graves

It’s a testament to the power of social media that the state of Mississippi has finally acknowledged it has a responsibility to protect an unmarked African American cemetery that stands in the way of the Continental Tire project near Clinton, Miss., more than two weeks after I broke the cemetery here.

That first story followed an interview with two elderly African American sisters who remember burying relatives in the unmarked cemetery adjacent to a marked white cemetery known as New Salem, in an area that will be leveled for the plant. At that time, the state had not acknowledged the presence of the unmarked black graves in their plans for the site, and crews hired by the state had not probed the black cemetery for graves as they were doing in New Salem.

Remarkably, I was unable to generate any interest among national media outlets in publishing that first story. Even the local Associated Press and the nonprofit news outlet Mississippi Today either declined to run it or simply disregarded my queries. For that reason, I posted the story on my website and shared it on social media, and within three days (after it had been viewed about 1,500 times), local TV stations WLBT and WJTV ran segments about the unmarked cemetery.

Now, Mississippi Today has published its own story saying the state has acknowledged the presence of the unmarked black cemetery and plans to search the area where the sisters say the unmarked graves lie.

The concern, of course, was that the unmarked black graves would have been bulldozed, even as the New Salem graves were disinterred and relocated. All of the graves will now be located and moved, as a direct result of the sharing of the original story on social media, which prompted wider conventional media coverage. In short: Social media did its job. Thanks to all who shared the story and made that happen. Thanks also to Ryan Nave at Mississippi Today for his well-reported piece.

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