Listen: What it means to know who your ancestors were
For decades, visitors to Pen Park had no idea that the land where they walked and golfed is the site of unmarked graves of enslaved people. Now, the descendants of those buried there are coming to terms with the discovery.
Zelda Hines and Michelle Waller-Stevens are among the first round of possible descendants discovered by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and the city of Charlottesville. They joined the In My Humble Opinion talk show to discuss their family history, along with Charlottesville Tomorrow reporter Tamica Jean-Charles.
The Waller family plans to work with the city as they conduct further research on the unmarked Pen Park graves.
“We can’t move on and not know what’s in our past,” said Hines. “In order for us to move on with our feelings and our understandings, we have to look deep and thank God we’re still not in that position.”
For years, the Waller Family spent their annual family reunions at Pen Park not knowing that just meters away from their family gatherings, their enslaved ancestors were laid to rest outside the cemetery wall that holds the white plantation owners.
Last summer, Jeff Werner, Charlottesville’s historic preservation and design planner, made the connection between a record he saw and a former colleague’s name.
Find out more about how Werner and his colleagues found descendants of enslaved people who are buried at Pen Park.
Once the city finds enough descendants, it can then begin the work of properly memorializing the people buried at the park. The city decided in a 2020 council meeting that no work on the unmarked graves can be done without the descendants’ permission.
The Waller family have made it a tradition to bury their passed loved ones in the Mount Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery in Ivy. They have no plans to move their newly discovered ancestors into the Waller family plot.
“I think it should be marked off with a plaque memorializing what the area is,” said Hines. “We have no way of knowing which grave is which. And if we keep searching, we’re going to find more than the Waller family.”
The show also featured a conversation about foster care and turning the statue of Robert E. Lee into new art. Listen to In My Humble Opinion on Sundays at noon on 101.3 Jamz and subscribe on YouTube.