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Future Of Lost Graves At Fort Ward Unknown

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The next move for the long-forgotten African-American graves at Fort Ward Park is still unknown.
Ryan Crierie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/63014123@N02/6863928952/
The next move for the long-forgotten African-American graves at Fort Ward Park is still unknown.

At Alexandria's Fort Ward Park, visitors can learn about how Union soldiers were stationed there to defend the capital from Confederate attack. But they'll learn almost nothing about how the area became a freedman's village after the war, a neighborhood known as the Fort, where generations of African-Americans lived their lives — and were buried.

Two years ago, the descendants of those families approached the city about recognizing these graves, launching years of archeological study and investigation.

City archeologist Pam Cressey says more than 20 graves have been identified on about 3 acres of the park.

"There is still a high possibility that there are other graves out there," says Cressey. But that doesn't mean that all of them will be identified.

"That's a lot, you know, more than 30 acres to look at, and it's not reasonable to turn over every inch of ground."

In the coming months, city officials will install new panels explaining what happened after the war, and they'll create a new management plan for the park.

Glen Eugster, who lives nearby, says the city has done a good job of documenting the history. But he says he would be disappointed if all of the graves are not identified and marked.

"Who's speaking for the dead?" he asks.

That's a question that will be debated in the coming months, as city leaders determine what happens next at this park on the city's West End. Still, Eugster says, the city seems reluctant to acknowledge what happened here or even discover all of the bodies buried at the park.

"If you look at the notices on the restroom doors about the work that's being done this spring and summer, the word graves isn't mentioned in any of those notices," he says. "I think people in the city are really nervous that there are a lot more people buried out here."

Whether or not all those graves will be discovered remains an open question.

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