Date of Award

7-1-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)

School

School of Education

Degree Name

Ed.D.

Department

Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Wright

Second Advisor

Dr. Karamo B. S. Barrow

Third Advisor

Dr. Alma Vinyard

Abstract

This study probes beneath the surface of history, culture, and memory to unearth what lies beneath the socially constructed landscapes of African-American graveyards and burial grounds. The purpose is to examine “the roots” in the cultural landscape of graveyards and burial grounds to discover how African-American writers have attempted to recapture and reclaim the cultural history and memories associated with these ancestral landscapes. To provide an appropriate historical and cultural context for analysis, this study “reads” the cultural landscapes of graveyards and burial grounds as depicted in African-American literature alongside actual historic African-American graveyards and burial grounds. In addition, this study positions the cultural landscapes of graveyards and

burial grounds—their natural topography, artifacts, and human associations—within the broader context of the African-American cultural landscape. The graveyard itself is mapped as a microcosm of the larger society and is examined as a reflection of the social relationships and cultural heritage of African Americans. The literary works in this study: Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident, Edward P. Jones’ The Known World, and Alice Walker’s “Burial” all provide examples of the purposeful use of historic landscapes—and especially ancestral graveyards and burial grounds—to perform various literary functions: as symbols of African-American heritage and the continuity of cultural tradition, as depictions of sacred places for ritually accessing African ancestral spirits for assistance and spiritual support, as representations of loss through death and absence, and as sites of memory for recovering the symbolically buried past as a means for healing the living spirit. Within the literature analyzed in this study, the influence of African beliefs regarding the ongoing relationships between the living and the dead has appeared as a significant factor in the establishment of the identity of the individual, the community, and the culture of African Americans. As this study demonstrates, all of the writers examined in this analysis depict the cultural landscapes of graveyards and burial grounds as sacred ancestral grounds-that function as potently significant repositories of African American history, memory, and culture.

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