From Joe Certaine: January 14, 2016
Earlier today we learned that Bethel Burying Ground has been placed on the National Park Service Registry of Historic Sites.
This is a tremendous achievement and a major step in our ongoing effort to protect and preserve this publicly owned historic site. Five thousand Black Philadelphians who formed and protected the existence of our community are interred underneath the grounds of Waccacoe Playground in the Southwark community of Philadelphia.
We will soon schedule an event to thank all of those who have been helpful in our effort to achieve this important goal. Our struggle is not over. We still must impress upon the administration of Mayor Kenney the importance of this taxpayer owned historic site and the need to protect and preserve Bethel Burying Ground as a major historic asset of the City of Philadelphia.
Congratulations to the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition. Please keep up the pressure until we can achieve our goal of a permanent, protected, undesecrated, resting place for our ancestors in the African Diaspora. Well done.
Although I have not been able to find officials documents reporting the internment of African American veterans at Bethel Burying Ground I have come across a Philadelphia Inquirer article from May 31, 1889. It reports that “Robert Bryan Post 80, colored, commanded by Samuel Jones, visited Wilmot and Bethel African M.E. cemeteries. The orator was John S. Durham.”
The Honorable John S. Durham was an African American who graduated from the Institute of Colored Youths and the University of Pennsylvania. He was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as the U.S. Diplomatic Consul to Santo Domingo and eventually as Consul-General of the U.S. to Haiti. He was the highest-ranking African American in the Harrison administration.
African American soldiers at Camp William Penn in Cheltenham, PA during the Civil War
More than one-third of the 2,490 identified so far buried at Bethel Burying Ground are infants 2 years old and younger. The lack of a nutritional diet accounts for the majority of these deaths. Starvation was a very real problem for the desperately poor families. More often it was a lack of protein (meat) that was expensive and out of reach of many families. Also, the inability of pregnant women to obtain adequate nutrition contributed to the birth of babies with weakened immune systems that made them more susceptible to a long list of deadly diseases.
For an excellent overview of the subject see African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives, pages 335, 337, 343-44, 353, 354-55.