One hundred forty-six years ago, Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner, Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the editor of the Christian Record, called out the leadership of Bethel A.M.E. Church over the mismanagement of the Bethel Burying Ground. The trustees of the church had rented the graveyard to a local factory to be used as a storage yard for its wagons and barrels. This newspaper was the official organ of the AME Church.
The Christian Recorder
Date: August 3, 1872
More than a fortnight ago, we called attention to the miserable and most disgraceful condition of this consecrated ground; and then promised more “next week.” We now fulfill our promise, if not in regard to time, certainly in regard to the matter itself.
As we said then, it cannot be possible that Bethel church knows the condition of these grounds. If she did, we feel sure that she would rise up in her might, and right the wrong, by putting away the disgrace. Her disgrace! It is nothing less. Is not the son disgraced who refuses to pay the funeral expenses of his mother? Is he not disgraced if he gives her not decent interment? And would he not be doubly disgraced, if he were to barter away for pelf, the family burial ground; and at the same time, be too mean to remove the bones of his dead ancestry? All the Christian world would give a most hearty affirmative to each and all these interrogatories.
It is almost precisely thus with the few men who led Bethel into this affair of bartering away Old the (sic) Burial Ground. In that ground, lay the dead fathers and mothers of our Israel, and their children of this generation have made traffic of their bones. For the paltry sum of five hundred dollars a year, they have disgraced themselves, disgraced the Church; we might say, disgraced the race.
Visit that ground today, perfumed with the sweet odors of the dead, and which ought to be perfumed with sweetest flowers, and what do you see? A most shameful spectacle-old hogshead, and barrels and lumber of every conceivable shape. Not a gravestone unbroken, not a grave to be seen-all is confusion and shame.
Who led Bethel-the first to recommend it we mean, into this Slough of Contempt, we know not; we possibly may know by the time we write our next article. Whoever he is, he ought to be made do forty days penance and wear the deepest sackcloth. In the meantime, we invite the friends to take a walk down to the ground, on Queen St. between Fourth and Fifth, and view it for themselves.
In our next edition, we hope to give the names of some of the venerable dead there interred with a little more comment.