Laurel Cemetery was incorporated in 1852 as a nondenominational cemetery for African Americans of Baltimore, Maryland. It was the final resting place for thousands of Baltimoreans and many prominent members of the community, including religious leaders, educators, political organizers, and civil rights activists. During its existence, the privately owned cemetery changed hands several times, and by the 1930s, the site was overgrown, and garbage strewn from years of improper maintenance and neglect. In the 1950s, legislation was adopted permitting the demolition and sale of the property for commercial purposes. Despite controversy over the new legislation, local opposition to the demolition, numerous lawsuits, and NAACP supported court appeals, the cemetery was demolished in 1958 to make room for the development of a shopping center. Prior to the bulldozing of the cemetery, a few hundred gravestones and an unknown number of burials (fewer than 200) were exhumed and relocated to a new site in Carroll County. Ongoing archival research has thus far documented over 18,000 (projected to be over 40,000) original burials, most of which still remain interred beneath the Belair-Edison Crossing shopping center property, which occupies the footprint of the old cemetery.
This book highlights and historicizes underexplored and forgotten people and events associated with the cemetery, stressing the importance of their work in laying the social, economic, and political foundation for Baltimore’s African American community. Additionally, this text details the unsuccessful fight to prevent the cemetery’s destruction and the more recent grassroots formation of the Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project to research and commemorate the site and the people buried there.
Elgin Klugh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Social and Political Sciences at Coppin State University. His primary research interests include heritage, cultural landscapes, and community revitalization. He currently serves as chair for the Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project.
Isaac Shearn currently holds adjunct positions at the Community College of Baltimore County, University of Baltimore, Coppin State University, and Morgan State University. In addition to his work in Baltimore, his research interests include the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Caribbean and South America, with a focus on public archaeology, developing inclusive and participatory methods.