ECU students research lost African American cemetery in Ayden

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AYDEN, N.C. (WNCT) – East Carolina University students are making discoveries in Ayden.

What they’re finding will likely lead to efforts to preserve a forgotten history.

WNCT’s Amber Joseph shows us what they’re doing.

Town leaders in Ayden asked an ECU professor to do some research on this land off of Old NC 11.

What he and his students are finding is shocking.

It’s an abandoned African American cemetery with an estimated 400 gravesites.

It’s something many people may not know.

“Abandoned cemeteries are everywhere. You drive by a backcountry road and look across the field and if there’s a clump of trees, there’s a graveyard there, said Charles Ewen, Ph.D., a professor with the Department of Anthropology at East Carolina University.

ECU anthropology students are uncovering this forgotten site, a resting place for many African Americans from Ayden.

“The families move away and people forget and then land gets used for other things,” Ewen said.

Ewen and his students are taking on the project.

“Everybody got one of these orange pin flags. Actually I got a bundle of 200 of them and I said okay let’s mark all the stones and depressions and we ran out right away and I went yikes! There are more people here than I thought,” said Ewen. “I think we’re looking at 300 400 people.”

Students maps each grave, logging names, dates when people were born and when they died. They range from the 1880s to the 1960s.

“A lot of people died in 1918. I wonder what was going on. Well, that was the Spanish flu. You can learn a lot about the demographics of the area,” he said.

Ewen believes knowing this history is important.

“How does this get started? How far back does this go? Who’s here? Why are they there? Why does it get forgotten? It gets you thinking more and more about the history of your area,” he explains.

Ewen and his students will continue to map and research this area. Then the town of Ayden will work to see how it can commemorate this abandoned cemetery.

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