The City Of The Dead For Colored People: Baltimore's Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1807-2012

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History and Geography


Doctor of Philosophy

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The City of the Dead for Colored People: The Creation of Mount Auburn Cemetery explores the common theme of African American history-the struggle for freedom and autonomy-via the African American cemetery. This study first focuses on how African Americans in Baltimore, MD agitated and succeeded in establishing African American burial rights. Secondly, it argues that these burial rights led to African Americans obtaining freedom and autonomy. This study is specifically situated on Mount Auburn Cemetery, located in South Baltimore, and examines the numerous social and historical factors that shaped, transformed, and ultimately led to a small African American burial ground becoming a thirty-four acre cemetery, a social institution, and a business. Starting in 1807, seven African Americans bought two and one-fourth acres of land giving African Americans, free and enslaved, a right to freedom through death. African Americans could not control their enslaved and marginalized lives, but they could control their deaths. Post emancipation, the cemetery strategized a moved to South Baltimore, bought more land, and created a symbiotic relationship with a newly formed African American community by the name of Hullsville. The cemetery professionalized and became a business paving the way for independent African American morticians. It is important to note that this dissertation is not a narrow history of some obscure cemetery that fell into disarray. Instead, it places Mount Auburn Cemetery as a unit of analysis in order to do the following: a) illustrate the historical significance of Mount Auburn Cemetery to the African American community; b) study nineteenth century and twentieth century race relations between Blacks and Whites, especially the relationship involved within the origins of the cemetery; c) understand the significance of African American cultural norms and the interconnectedness of death and funerary practices within the Black community.