Have you ever seen the "African Burial Ground" sign from Interstate 40 at exit 356 (Kingston) and wondered what it was? We have, and we once even took Highway 58 in to Oak Ridge, but we didn't find anything then.
This past weekend, however, we took a ride on the Secret City train, and there it was--a cemetery--less than a mile south of the Wheat Train Station. Though there was no reason to get all emotional and start crying, my heart still skipped a beat just as it did when I saw my first cotton field up close.
When the United States Government chose the Oak Ridge area to develop the atomic bomb for the Manhattan Project during World War II, the farming community of Wheat (one of four communities) in Roane Co. was displaced. The Welcker family owned and operated the Laurel Banks Plantation in Wheat from the early 19th century until 1840 when George Hamilton Gallaher purchased the property, and it became the Gallaher-Stone Plantation. Slaves from the plantation are buried here, and a monument marks their lives, which is legible in the photo below. According to the Roane County Heritage Commission, slaves built much of Roane County, and this cemetery may well be the largest such cemetery in East Tennessee. In 1979, a Wheat resident counted between 90-100 graves.
According to the 1860 Census Slave Schedule, there were 583 slaves in Anderson County, 1,338 in Roane County, 2,347 in Knoxville County (as called at the time) and a total of 275,719 slaves and 7,300 free African Americans in Tennessee.
I wasn't exactly prepared to visit a cemetery that day, but I just so happened to be able to leave a twig of artificial lavender flowers to honor them. I'll definitely stop in again and pay my respects to this extraordinary group of people in our history--because to live and survive in slavery conditions meant you were extraordinary.
Directions from Knoxville: Take 1-40 West headed toward Nashville. At Exit 356, go north toward Oak Ridge approximately 5 miles. After you cross the Clinch River, the cemetery will be on the right.