Juneteenth at slave cemetery: loved, though names unknown

June 19, 2020 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Community and environmental groups held a Juneteenth ceremony at a Louisiana site archaeologists have described as probably a cemetery for enslaved Africans Americans when the land was a plantation.

“I felt like the ancestors were shouting for joy in heaven. We let them know they were not forgotten,” said organizer Sharon Lavigne of the community group Rise St. James. She said it was her first Juneteenth celebration.

It was held on a small part of the site where FG LA LLC, a local member of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, has begun construction on a $9.4 billion chemical complex.


A short video on Rise St. James’ Facebook page showed about a dozen people but Lavigne said about 50 attended the ceremony, held after state district and appeal courts rejected FG LA’s arguments.

Father Vincent Dufresne of the Catholic church in nearby Convent prayed for those buried there.

“They were brought here against their will ... We don’t know them by name but we love them as our own,” he said.

Rise St. James and the Bucket Brigade, an environmental group that also has been fighting plans for the project, went to court for authorization to hold the service after FG LA failed to answer multiple requests, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents them.

On Thursday, 23rd District Judge Emile St. Pierre upheld an order he had handed down at the start of the week, the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a news release.

“Formosa Plastics’ emergency writ to the Court of Appeals was denied last night even before we could get our opposition in,” center spokeswoman Jen Nessel wrote in a news release Friday morning.

Work in December confirmed that the site held graves, the statement said.

“It is important to note that despite assertions made about ancestral ties to the site, no archaeologist has been able to confirm the identity or ethnicity of the remains discovered on FG property,” Harris said in a statement emailed Thursday. He said the company ultimately plans “to have the remains respectfully re-interred in a proper cemetery.”

The plantation owners and their families are in marked graves at standard cemeteries, the archaeologists noted.


“Those enslaved on these plantations had no choice in where they were buried. Their deaths and burials were not recorded, unlike those of the wealthy white plantation owners whose grave sites can be traced,” they wrote.

Lavigne said her parents and grandparents lived in the area all their lives, so she’s sure the graveyard holds her ancestors.

“We will not allow them to take our ancestors out of the ground and put them somewhere else,” she said during the ceremony.

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 that Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free.

Rise St. James and the Bucket Brigade also have gone to court to challenge state air quality permits and federal wetlands permits.