Residents say many Fort Ward graves remain lost

|
Photo - Fort Ward in Alexandria (Examiner file photo)
Fort Ward in Alexandria (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Adrienne Washington was disappointed when she learned that Alexandria planned to pull the plug on its investigation of Fort Ward Park just days after archeologists uncovered dozens of previously lost graves in the area.

Washington, whose ancestors are buried in the now city-owned land, had hoped officials would continue searching for the many African-Americans who once inhabited the park and remain unaccounted for.

"We know that it's not possible to find everything on that land," Washington said. "But we don't want them to just stop. Our ancestors made this part of Alexandria viable. We want our history restored."

Washington and Glenn Eugster, a member of Oakland Baptist Church, which is near the park, have worked with Alexandria officials to spearhead the archeological project and recognize the significance of the African-Americans who once inhabited the land.

Despite their best efforts, Eugster said the city's investigations "really haven't turned up" the number of graves he and his neighbors believe to be in the park.

He said he suspects the city isn't trying very hard to find any more graves because it has no financial incentive to do so. "I don't think anybody wants to find any more bodies."

Despite the possibility of more missing graves, Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, said the city, which has spent more than $1 million on Fort Ward Park since 2009, had no immediate plans to continue digging in the park.

"We just don't have the funding to remove every blade of grass and every tree to see if there's a burial out there," Mallamo said. "We focused on areas with documented evidence that showed there were graves."

Mallamo said new technology somewhere down the road will likely allow the city to uncover more graves in an "environmentally responsible way." The ground-penetrating radar used by archeologists in recent searches produced mixed results. And, he said, the lost graves remaining in the park are not immediately threatened.

Until then, Washington, the director of the Fort Ward and Seminary African American Descendants Society Inc., said she'll continue pushing the city to do more to recognize the history of her ancestors and the ancestors of others who once inhabited the park.

"I'm not so much interested in buttons and arrowheads as I am the human beings who are still out there," she said. "We're grateful for all the city has done, but we feel like we're only halfway there."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment