An outdoor educational exhibit set to run from late January to April 3, 2021, In Plain Sight will challenge us to confront the persistence of long-standing inequity—in death as well as in life. Panels positioned along the old carriage track through Geer Cemetery—with accompanying safely distanced and virtual programming—will illuminate a history too often unseen, that of the graveyard itself as well as the African Americans laid to rest there and the role they played in building Durham.
More than 1,500 men, women, and children were buried in Geer Cemetery from 1877 to 1944, many of them experiencing slavery, rural-to-urban-migration, and the inhumanity of Jim Crow firsthand. For decades after the “separate but equal” doctrine finally moved city leaders to open a public burial ground for African Americans in the late 1920s, Geer Cemetery has suffered from municipal neglect while the graves of the city’s white founders are tended with tax dollars.
Leading this collaborative effort with local students, scholars, volunteers, and descendants of those laid to rest here, the Friends of Geer Cemetery welcome the entire community to contemplate the ways in which these marks of our past inform the contemporary struggle for justice and respect.
In Plain Sight is open for self-guided tours during daylight hours, seven days a week. And thanks to the work of descendant Dennis Howland (and his YouTube channel, You Can V There), you can also tour the exhibit virtually! Below is the recording he made on our first in-person tour on January 30, 2021, using VR technology to produce an immersive, 360 video experience. If you’re on a mobile device, you can move it to explore the powerful space that is Geer Cemetery in all directions. The same effect can be achieved in a traditional browser using your mouse or trackpad.
To contemplate the content at each tour stop in more depth, you can pause the video and view the panels in the carousel below.
The Friends of Geer Cemetery hosted a virtual panel discussion on Saturday, February 20, followed by a Q&A. Panelists included Vanessa Hines, Durham Racial Equity Task Force and Stagville Memorial Project; William Sturkey, Associate Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill; Angela Thorpe, Director, NC African American Heritage Commission; and Andre Vann, Head Archivist and Public Historian, NC Central. Watch it here.