A few posts ago, I encouraged visitors of Hilton Head to visit Braddock’s Point Cemetery that is located behind the gates of Sea Pines Plantation. Upon doing so, I was reminded of the story that I read concerning the Sea Islands in a 1987 issue of National Geographic. Lord knows where the publication is now (somewhere in the attic of my childhood home), but I remember that there was picture of a woman looking at headstones through a gate. Luxury condominiums served as its backdrop. It’s an odd experience to watch the past and the present collide in such a manner. To me, it’s an unsettling feeling. It makes me wonder if people realize that places like Braddock’s Point Cemetery is more than just a bunch of headstones but a historical record of self-sufficient people who built, lived, and thrived on Hilton Head Island. Up until a few years ago, few people respected that fact. The descendants of the Braddock’s Point Slaves and Freedmen even had to pay to enter the Sea Pines Plantation just to visit the cemetery. The plantation powers-that-be put a stop to that after the wrong was exposed in the National Geographic article.
Another story of the present clashing with the past takes me closer to home. My husband and I went to visit one of my loved ones in the Joe Pope Cemetery, which is located near Broad Creek. First we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly to buy flowers, but we didn’t return to the car, to drive to the destination as was probably expected. It wasn’t necessary. If husband was surprised that I walked through a fence next to the supermarket and into the neighboring cemetery, he never let on. I knew that it was odd to him though that a place so sacred did not have its respected space.
Finally, one summer while I was in college, I worked for one of he resorts on nearby Daufuskie Island. The only way to access this island, even now, is by boat. As we would chug slowly to the docks, one of the first sights of the island was a cemetery near the water. With the surrounding oaks and palmettos, it was actually a beautiful site. But then the welcome center for the resort was right next to it, just marring the whole image. It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks after working at the resort did the islanders tell me that the building wasn’t right next to the cemetery. It was right on top of the cemetery and there was a big lawsuit going on for the resort to move the welcome center. I was appalled but it wasn’t surprising. A lot of the older graves on the Sea Islands are either unmarked or the headstones have sunken into the soft earth. I just wonder why development has to occur right next to or practically on top of these final resting places, as if our ancestors never existed. I’ve been to a few cemeteries over the years in places like New Orleans and Philadelphia where they are apart of the cities’ character. I feel as these places are respected as places that contributed to this country’s history rather than as places that are an inconvenience to someone’s plans for development.
If you have read either The Promise of Palmettos or Marshland, you will find that I make references to the cemeteries to help the reader understand that these aren’t just places to bury loved ones. These places are also a part of our history. It displays our traditions. This cemeteries on the islands are the only places undisturbed by time. They are a record of our past.