FAYETTEVILLE, AR — A Fayetteville church found the burial grounds for dozens of slaves in its backyard when the land was being surveyed for a cell phone tower.
Pastor Steve Dixon said Christian Life Cathedral sits on top of a hill in Fayetteville where a cell phone company wanted to put up a cell tower. When the company started looking deep beneath the ground using satellite imaging, Dixon said he couldn't believe what they found.
"They showed me a map that changed absolutely everything. They said they were not able to build the tower here because there were at least 90 graves all over this area," Dixon said.
Dixon said the remains of dozens of slaves were discovered on the land behind gravestones belonging to white families in Fayetteville. Church records indicate some of the people who are buried in the cemetery under the marked gravestones were white and owned slaves.
Forgotten no more, the congregation vowed to keep the land sacred and honor the lives lost during a ceremony Sunday.
"We want to preserve this land so that nobody would ever come in and violate the memory of people who were forgotten in life," Dixon said. "Some died nameless and there's no register of the family, no register of their lineage, no register of the pain that they suffered."
Chairty Childers is a member of Christian Life Cathedral. She said it is important to remember this vital piece of history.
"To think now, that where we are in this day and age, how that could have happened and how people could've let that happen and how we can not let that happen again," Childers said. "We are all creations of God, no matter the color of our skin or where we are from."
Another member, Renee Carr, said she was emotional honoring the past Sunday.
"It's important. Our kids need to know. Our grand kids need to know about what happened in the past and how we can move forward from here," Carr said.
The cell phone tower will not be built on the property. The space is being honored by the National Park Service's 400 Years of African-American History Commission, which recognizes the 400 years since the first African American slaves were brought to the United States in 1619.
Pastor Reginald James said the dedication of the unmarked graves helps the public remember the roots the United States grew from.
"We want to rededicate our focus and our lives not only to the eradication of slavery, we think of most of the times in chains, but we want to take it a step further," James said. "Not just eradication of slavery in what people think of as slavery, but the lingering effects of slavery that continue to hold our country to bondage."