Participant in the Libation Ceremony at Bethel Burying Ground (Photo/T. Buckalew)
Nearly two dozen people met at 4th Street and Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia on Saturday where they marched several blocks to the Weccacoe playground on Queen Street to honor the remains of some 5,000 African people said to be buried beneath the playground.
“The City of Philadelphia, Department of Parks and Recreation is trying to renovate the playground with no regard for the graves of our ancestors buried there,” read materials released by the group Friends of Bethel Burial Ground Coalition who organized the event.
“These Black Philadelphians lived and died in Southwark during the 18th and 19th centuries. They are the founding members of the Black community in Philadelphia. They are our ancestors in the African Diaspora.”
Supporters gathered wearing traditional African garb, and green, black and red flags were distributed to marchers who met at Fourth and Washington.
Once gathered, the group marched from Washington Avenue to Queen Street where they gathered in the playground in which the remains of the dead were said to be buried.
Red chalk marked the areas where the bodies were said to be and participants were asked to avoid stepping on the area demarcated.
The ceremony began with a call of the drums, in which traditional drummers played as the people gathered at the site.
Following the drums was a libation in which the names of those buried were mentioned and ancestors remembered.
“We are here to honor the ancestors that are buried about 18 inches beneath the surface of that playground, 5,000 Black ancestors from the 1700s and 1800s,” said Joe Certaine, who organized the event.
According to him, those buried founded the Black community in Philadelphia.
“At one time this whole area was pretty much relegated to Black residents, and those are the residents that are buried in the cemetery,” he said.
“Since the rediscovery of this historic site there has been no public prayer offered for our ancestors at the place of their interment,” Certaine said
Those prayers were conducted on Saturday and the memories of those buried honored during the ceremony.
Ron McCoy is a member of the group Avenging the Ancestors and conducted the libation ceremony during the event.
“It’s traditional before any event that has to do with Africans that we have libations,” McCoy said. “We give respect to our ancestors and the creator and ask them to be with us.”
“We stand now on this Earth that received the earthly remains of our brothers and our sisters, beneath the open expanse of the heavens which received their spirits,” said broadcaster Nick Taliaferro who spoke to the crowd gathered. “Make sure that these lives are not forgotten; always remember the ugly scar that is a part of our American history that allowed some people to be treated as less than human beings.”
“How would you feel if somebody pissed on your mother’s grave?” asked attorney Michael Coard to the crowd. “That is what is happening here. If you look at where the bathrooms are, they are right above your mothers, your grandmothers, your fathers and your grandfathers.”
Others at the event included Min. Rodney Muhammad of Mosque No. 12 and Rev. Dr. Renee McKenzie of the Church of the Advocate.
Coard said Black people ought to be outraged.
“Where else in America? Where else in Pennsylvania? Where else in Philadelphia can 5,000 Jewish people, 5,000 Italian people or 5,000 English people be buried under a trash dump and there not be some type of acknowledgment and nobody knows about it?” he asked.
(Nathaniel Lee, Philadelphia Tribune, October 22, 2014)