Arts & Culture

UWF Division of Anthropology and Archeology partners with local church for workshop

The University of West Florida Division of Anthropology and Archaeology and John the Baptist Church will host a public workshop exploring Pensacola’s historic African American burial grounds. “By These Hands: Vernacular Markers of Pensacola’s Historic African American Cemeteries” will be held Sept. 17–19, at various locations and cemeteries throughout Pensacola.

The church received a $15,000 grant from the Florida Humanities Council and partnered with the UWF Archaeology Institute to structure programming. The University’s involvement and support also extends to the Florida Public Archaeology Network, UWF Historic Trust, History and Chemistry departments, and the University Archives and West Florida History Center.

“By These Hands” will focus on Pensacola’s historic African American burial grounds. AME Zion, Magnolia and John the Baptist Cemeteries will be featured and are considered outdoor museums that reflect cultural attitudes and adaptations and house works of art handcrafted by local artisans and craftsmen.

“These three cemeteries were established in the late 19th century to serve an African American community impacted by restrictive Jim Crow laws, and they reflect the lives of many people who were born into slavery or were first generation post emancipation,” said Margo Stringfield, UWF archeologist. “The uplifting story of how these cemeteries came into being and of the people buried in them reflects community unity and the continuation of long held cultural traditions linking people to their past.”

The workshop will span three days, beginning Thursday, Sept. 17, with a keynote address from Dr. Dennis Montagna, a historian with the Northeast Region of the National Park Service. Friday, Sept. 18 will include a tombstone cleaning workshop and a discussion of The Colored Citizen newspaper. That evening an exhibit at downtown Pensacola’s Artel Gallery, as part of Gallery Night, focuses on art in the cemetery. The programming will continue in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 19 with various speakers and concludes that afternoon with tours and demonstrations at the three cemeteries.

“Across the country, municipalities are struggling with how to best address issues associated with the historic cemetery resources dotting the contemporary landscapes of their communities,” said Stringfield. “In Pensacola, our historic cemeteries are open-air museums that reflect a rich cultural heritage. Whether well-maintained, neglected or abandoned, they will be a constant presence on the landscape into the foreseeable future. If issues are affectively addressed, cemetery resources can become inviting community assets that contribute to a ‘sense of place’ for residents and visitors alike. The ‘By These Hands’ project highlights three of Pensacola’s cemeteries and raises awareness or why preserving these sites plays such a vital role in telling Pensacola’s story.”

UWF is supporting this project in a number of ways. From UWF archivist Dean DeBolt and UWF Historic Trust archivist Jacquelyn Wilson to demonstrations from graduate students, faculty and staff, the University’s participation is extensive. The University Archives and West Florida History Center is also working to build a collection of The Colored Citizen, a publication printed from 1914 to 1958, and welcomes community contributions.

“By These Hands” is free and open to the public. Reservations are requested for particular events. For a full schedule of the weekend and more information, please visit