Community works to protect Cainhoy burial grounds

Updated: Apr. 28, 2021 at 9:43 PM EDT
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A community in the Cainhoy area is hoping to protect burial grounds they say is being threatened by a development.

People working to preserve graves in and around the McDowell cemetery said it dates back to the late 1690′s. It was an all-White cemetery until the late 1800′s. African Americans have been buried right outside of its fences in a separate burial ground.

MaeRe Chandler Skinner is the Chair of the Cainhoy Methodist Church & Cemetery which owns the parcel that the cemetery is on. She has been working with Fred Lincoln to identify African American graves and combine both areas into one.

The Oak Bluff subdivision which is made up of multiple homes with more to come is expanding into the area near the cemetery.

The developer Oak Bluff Development LLC has bought up a lot of the property surrounding the cemetery including where unmarked graves are said to be located.

Cainhoy community members, the African American Settlement Commission Inc., and the Gullah Society are hoping to raise awareness about the planned development in hopes of protecting the graves.

“We have lost numerous burial sites on this Clement Ferry Road, and we want to make sure that we protect this burial site and to honor those who went before us,” Lincoln said. “We have approached the developer with a simple request, they have designated an area where they say all the graves are, all we asked is that we examine the rest of the property to make sure our ancestors are not built over or on.”

After a forensic study, they believe there could be 45 to 57 African American graves around the site. They are hoping the developer will allow for further studies to be conducted to make sure graves are not being impacted.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg has sent a letter to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control about his concerns that the development could threaten the burial grounds.

SCDHEC officials said the developer received approval from DHEC on Jan. 7, 2021. The area containing the graves is to be avoided entirely by the project.

" The Coastal Zone Consistency (CZC) certification of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage has a condition requiring work to cease and coordination with DHEC and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) should any archaeological or cultural resources be discovered during site work,” DHEC officials said in a statement.

Community members say they will be meeting with the developer and representatives from the city of Charleston on Friday in hopes of reaching a compromise.

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