When this Virginia highway was built the markers for slave graves were pulled downBreaking News
tags: slavery, Virginia
The old man was Matt Burnett, a lifelong resident of this mountain-top community in Patrick County. In 1984, Burnett was an 80-year-old man living with a regret that he confessed to Heafner as the two men walked in a grassy pasture just a few yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Nearly 50 years earlier in that same meadow, as the parkway was being built in about 1936, Burnett had been part of a work crew that had removed the headstones from an old slave cemetery. He and other men had pulled up the simple fieldstone grave markers and had hauled them into the nearby woods. The plan was to replace the stones when the road was finished, Burnett said, but that never happened. The slave cemetery was all but forgotten.
“You could tell the man felt bad about it,” Heafner said, recalling that conversation.
Burnett asked Heafner if he would make sure that people would someday know about the forgotten slaves hiding in plain sight next to a road traveled by millions. Heafner was young then, a businessman and a publisher who knew people in Meadows of Dan and up and down the parkway. Surely, Burnett thought, Heafner could find a way to place a monument or memorial to those people, so that their lives wouldn’t remain buried in the past.
“I want you to promise to get it done,” the old man demanded.
“I’ll do my best,” Heafner replied. Burnett died three years later.
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