This article first appeared PBS’s on December 30, 2020

The burial ground of Marian Anderson crowdfunds to preserve Black history

Google “Eden Cemetery” and you’re bound to encounter an impressive list of influential Black Philadelphians laid to rest there. Absalom Jones, Marian AndersonOctavius Catto, Julian Abele, Frances Harper, and William Still are a few of the well-known figures who come up.

But Eden’s story is larger than its “notables.” Its very existence was shaped by segregation and the fight for civil rights, a history legible in its archival documents, material culture, and physical design, if you know how to read them.

Like many historic cemeteries, Eden is still active, carrying out around 150 burials per year. Its employees still regularly use centuries-old burial records, which makes them particularly susceptible to damage and deterioration. That’s why the Board of Eden Cemetery launched a GoFundMe campaign in October to fund the records’ conservation.

Unlike a traditional archive, where records are only used by researchers where they can be monitored and stored properly, Eden’s archive will require a more practical solution that allows for its continued use. Digitizing the records would mean that those handling the day-to-day operations don’t need to physically move or touch them, and would also make them accessible to researchers around the world.