Their stories deserve to be told.
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Great Smoky Mountain Park Cemetery
Credit: Facebook/Great Smoky Mountains National Park/Rhonda Wise

Centuries later, the National Park Service is on a quest to bring dignity to seven individuals buried in unmarked graves in the Great Smoky Mountains—and they need our help.

At the Hidgon Family Cemetery in the Hazel Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies a grave marked simply "A Black Man,” with no name, no date, and no epitaph. It’s set apart from the other graves and faces the opposite way. Nearby, a short distance from the Mingus Mill, is a cemetery with six graves marked only with field stones thought to be for enslaved people from the 1800s.

“What are the names of the community members interred at these locations?” the park asked on Facebook last week. “We do not know.”

These are mysteries park historians say they’re determined to solve as part of a project documenting “the African American experience in the Smokies.”

“This research project is facing common obstacles: the African American members of the communities are nameless and faceless in typical historical records,” the park service explained. “Documents like birth/death records, photos, personal journals, family Bibles, and similar forms of historic reference materials have been difficult to uncover, because for many of the African American people of the time, they just don’t exist.”

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That’s where the public comes in. The park service is asking anyone with records, photos, or personal stories of the African American communities in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park to come forward.

Anyone with information can contact Rhonda Wise at rhonda_wise@nps.gov.

Let’s help these unknown Americans get back the dignity they were denied.