The Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of Baltimore's largest African American cemeteries. It is also the final resting place for former slaves, clergymen, teachers, doctors, military veterans, and civil rights leaders, as well as countless African American families. According to the website of the Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, the Reverend James Peck, pastor of Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church, and the church trustees purchased the property in Mount Winans, comprising approximately 32 acres in 1872. The purchase of land for the cemetery ensured the continuation of a tradition of the African American community that began in 1810. The land was officially dedicated and named "The City of the Dead for Colored People" and was changed to Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1894. For several years, it was the only cemetery in Baltimore City where African Americans could be buried with dignity.
In the past, the injustices against African Americans extended beyond physical oppression and forced labor. Even after the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed, which respectively abolished slavery and gave citizenship rights to African Americans, Black people were still treated as outcasts and were not entitled to much in the eyes of society, and the same was so even in their deaths.
Notable acts of disentitlement were in the ‘Records Division’ of the government. A newspaper article from 1710 exclusively stated that new births, marriages, and deaths should be recorded for everyone except Negroes and Mulattoes. This discrimination made it particularly difficult for people of African descent to be peacefully laid to rest in America. Therefore, cemeteries had to be developed specifically for Africans Americans. Otherwise, they would risk being buried in a Potter’s Field – a place where the unknown and forgotten buried.
Furthermore, the graveyards of African Americans have suffered a great deal of neglect and vandalism. In extreme cases, bodies would even be disinterred from the earth. An unfortunate example which epitomizes neglect, vandalism, and the result of racial segregation is the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore.
Recent efforts have been made by the Maryland government to ‘resurrect’ the cemetery by organizing a general clean-up of the grounds and providing better documentation of the individuals buried there. As of July 6, 2021, nearly 51,366 burials have been identified through a combination of sources such as the Maryland State Archives and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Since there are an estimated 55,000 burials at Mt. Auburn, this project remains a work in progress and will continue to evolve over time.