Daily Press Editorial: Creating a stronger community
Daily Press Editorial Board, 8-28-18
The country’s first African-American family gets a grant to protect its heritage.
Tucked into a thicket next to a suburban street that arrived well after the headstones were placed, the Tucker Family Cemetery is finally getting the recognition and protection it deserves.
The site is believed to be the resting place of the first African-American child — William Tucker — born in North America. The two-acre plot had almost been lost to history had it not been for some eager advocates who persisted over the years to keep the site accessible and free of debris.
Gov. Ralph Northam joined about 50 others on Friday at the cemetery in to sign a ceremonial easement between the Tucker Family and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the latter of which will provide a $100,000 grant used to preserve and maintain the cemetery in the Aberdeen Gardens section of Hampton.
The William Tucker 1624 Society, which is overseen by William Tucker’s descendants, owns the cemetery. While the easement doesn’t change ownership of the land, it gives it public access and protects it from development.
That sounds like a fair trade. And it’s one that will help preserve that cemetery for generations to come.
The first recorded Africans to arrive on the shores of English-speaking North America came in 1619 and arrived at Point Comfort, on the grounds of what is now Fort Monroe. Anthony and Isabella Tucker are believed to have been among those arriving, and their son William was born five years later. The family’s cemetery, which may or may not include William Tucker’s remains, rests on a two-acre plot tucked away just off Sharon Drive.
The cemetery is just a quarter of a mile away from the plantation where William Tucker was enslaved, and there are no other African-American cemeteries in that area, according to the family. So there is a chance William Tucker’s remains are on the property.
In 2016, the William Tucker 1624 Society took over ownership of the land and began a concerted effort to search for any unmarked graves and fix up the plot. The family commissioned a survey of the land last year using ground-penetrating radar, which revealed 106 unmarked graves. About another 100 graves are marked.
After years of neglect, this site is finally receiving a slice of the recognition it deserves.
After all, this Peninsula we all call home is steeped in history. This cemetery is perhaps one of the most significant African-American sites in the country and it deserves to preserved as much as any other historical site in our region. The cemetery does not deserve to decay into the surrounding trees and brush.