During the summer of 2005, Cobb Institute researchers S. Homes Hogue (biological anthropologist) and Jeffrey Alvey (archaeologist) were involved in burial recovery at an unmarked African-American cemetery in Lowndes County, Mississippi that dates from the late nineteenth century to 1956. The cemetery was located on the outskirts of the Weyerhaeuser Pulp and Paper Plant near Columbus, Mississippi and was discovered when construction aimed at expanding a portion of the plant disturbed human remains. Dr. Hogue was contacted by Weyerhaeuser officials in June and in consultation with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History concluded that the disturbance to the cemetery would have to be mitigated by archaeological excavation of the remaining burials. This decision was necessitated by Mississippi laws which prohibit anyone from knowingly desecrating cemeteries.
Hogue and Alvey, along with anthropology graduate students Taft Alford, Lacey Culpepper, Jason Edmonds, and Robert McCain began burial recovery on June 27 and ended on August 19. During this period a total of 17 burials were recovered, a number of which were infant burials. Most of the individuals interred in the cemetery appear to have been buried in wood coffins. Fragments of wood and nails were recovered from all of the burials. Osteological analysis of these remains was undertaken at the Cobb Institute laboratories. This analysis focused on the determination of ancestry, demographic parameters, and health of this population.
Background research was also conducted to determine the cultural-historical backdrop for the population interred at this cemetery. These efforts were focused on literature review, archival research, and inquiries around the community in hopes of acquiring information about the cemetery, as well as information pertaining to the lifeways of those individuals recovered from the cemetery. These efforts proved fruitful as important information regarding the history of the cemetery was obtained from individuals who had once lived in this community. It was from these inquiries that the name of the cemetery was discovered as well as the church it had once been associated with (Pepper Hill MB Church).
The period of interment represented by this cemetery, approximately 1880 to 1956, is an important period in the history of the South of which little is known concerning the everyday lives of people. This period represents a time when both former slaves and former slave-owners had to devise new relationships as the end of slavery and the plantation system gave way to new economic models. Former slaves found themselves in a prejudiced economic environment in which they were compelled towards one of three unfavorable subsistence strategies: wage labor, sharecropping, or tenant farming. It is hoped that this research project has succeeded in shining some light on this neglected period in Mississippi’s history and will help us to better understand the lives of those once treated as Mississippi’s second class citizens.
The report documenting our findings is available below for downloading in .PDF format. Due to the report’s large size it is provided in two parts to avoid the creation of one large and unwieldy .PDF document. The report’s appendix is also available for download separately.