Ironically, new development itself can be a catalyst for preservation, providing an opportunity to incorporate restored cemeteries into the overall landscape development plan. But properly restoring an old cemetery requires knowledge and careful attention to detail. A cemetery’s design and layout, the types of markers present, and even the decorations themselves reveal various folk, ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions.
How we bury our dead and how we maintain their gravesites reveals part of who we are as Alabamians.
One of the AHC’s most popular programs is the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register, the state’s only official listing of historic cemeteries. This program, similar to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, provides a quick and easy way for people to memorialize important cemeteries within their communities. While a cemetery must be at least forty years old to qualify, the register can and does encompass all types of burial grounds, whether community, family, private, church, municipal, or even unmarked. Listing is honorary and now includes over five hundred cemeteries throughout the state. Once a cemetery is placed on the register, the sponsoring person or group has the option to purchase either a historical marker or plaque displaying Alabama’s unique cemetery seal.
State laws protect cemeteries from desecration and willful destruction. In recent years, under the leadership of the late Sen. Wendell Mitchell, the state legislature has strengthened existing statutes and passed new ones. Now city and county governments have more authority to care for neglected cemeteries within their jurisdiction.
The AHC regularly sponsors cemetery workshops, where correct preservation techniques are demonstrated. Cleaning and repairing grave markers and removing overgrown vegetation are meaningful ways to honor our forebears and preserve their final resting places.
Alabama’s historic cemeteries can be meaningful and beautiful parts of our landscape. Often they evoke deep emotional responses because of our personal ties with those buried there. We advocate for preservation not from a cold, academic perspective, but from the belief that every burial has a story to tell and that every life is important.
This feature was previously published in Issue 106, Fall 2012.
About the Author
Lee Anne Hewett Wofford earned a BA in History and an MA in American Studies from the University of Alabama. She has worked for the Alabama Historical Commission for twelve years and manages the Architectural Survey Program, the Alabama Register of Landmarks & Heritage, and the Cemetery Preservation Program.