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Floodwater and heavy wind can damage cemeteries — toppling headstones, flooding vaults, and dislodging caskets.

“When Hurricane Katrina hit south Louisiana and Mississippi, we saw all of these images of flooded cemeteries, caskets that were displaced, just floating around,” says Jennifer Blanks, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M University.

Blanks studies cemetery management in historically Black American cemeteries.

She says cemeteries are personally meaningful for the descendants of those buried there. And they offer invaluable historical information — in some cases about communities that were destroyed or abandoned during the racist oppression of the Jim Crow era.

Some are neglected and hard to access. Broken and faded grave markers disappear in overgrown weeds.

Blanks is part of a movement to identify and document historic Black cemeteries. Some experts warn this work is increasingly urgent as more extreme weather threatens the sites and the history they contain.

“Sometimes those cemeteries are the last remaining evidence that the community existed,” she says. “So when you lose that cemetery, you lose a huge part of African American history and cultural identity.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media