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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Making Things Right BY JOSH ROSENBLATT Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves By China Galland HarperCollins 288 pages, $24.95 0 ne hundred forty years after the Civil War, and more than 40 removed from the days of Jim Crow, we still are haunted by the ghosts of slavery, specters that swarm around us in the form of racial animosity, cultural division, and economic disparity. Try as we might, and regardless of our most liberal, good-hearted intentions, the problems of our racially dysfunctional society remain the fruits of our country’s questionable past. So the question gets asked time and again: Like the unsuspecting children in the crowds calling for Jesus’ head, should an entire country be held responsible for the nefariousness of its past, especially a country like the United States, where there’s been enough nefariousness dished out over the years to spread the guilt and blood around for generations and still not see the end of it? Are we, as a society, damned for the sins of our past? China Galland would have us believe we are, both as a society and as individuals. But she qualifies the sentiment with the belief that it’s nothing a little atonement can’t fix. In her new book, Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves, Galland \(who’s quietly making a cottage industry writing books about personal journeys taken against the backdrop of enormous historical guilt she feels for the current state of racial affairs in America and her native Texas, and her desire to make amends. That guilt runs deep. Her family moved to East Texas in 1900, and her great-grandfather Stephen John Verhalen bought land in Harrison County for what would become the Verhalen Nursery from the family of W.T. Scott. Scott had moved to East Texas from Louisiana in 1834, and by the late 1850s was the largest and wealthiest slave owner in the countyScottsville is named after himhaving helped found the local railroad that allowed him to move cotton from his plantation to New Orleans and points east. During Reconstruction, in response to the growing political power of local African-Americans, Scott was instrumental in disenfranchising black votersusing poll taxes, literacy tests, ballot-box thievery, and outright intimidationand the propagation of the “store system” of debt peonage that effectively stole back from freed slaves the land they had purchased and farmed after the Civil War. Unhappily for Galland, the founders of the Verhalen Nursery her ancestorswere not above suspect dealings themselves. Galland learned all this while visiting East Texas in 1993 to research her family’s history. She learned about the Love Cemetery, a small patch outside Scottsville in which the remains of slaves and former slaves were interred. The cemetery had been named for its former owner, Della Love, a relative of Scott. After being “brought low” by creditors in the 1870s, Scott was forced to sell parcels of his land to freed blacks, many of whom had been his slaves only a decade before. For the first time in Harrison County, African-Americans became landowners. And Love was the cemeterythe “consecrated ground” for both these free blacks and their enslaved ancestors. By the time Galland arrived in 1993, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair. When she first visited, she found it untended and overgrown with wisteria. Looking at it, one would hardly have known it was a cemetery. “UNBURYING THE Z`1:e The Great Depression and the preponderance of factory jobs in big cities during World War II \(not to menhad conspired to effectively eradicate the black farming community that had viewed Love Cemetery as its own sacred space. By 1993, the descendents of those buried there had been locked out of the site for 40 years, the result, Galland conjectures, of long-standing racial animosity stirred up by the civil rights movement and the daunting intricacies of property law. Figuring that Love was the “last vestige of that thriving black farm community” and hoping to make some kind of restitution for her family’s complicity in its decline, Galland decided it should be restored and that she would write a book about her experiences helping do so. In the process, she believed, she and those who helped her could purge some of the racial mistrust and animosity that had tainted East Texas, and the United States, for so long. What follows is grand expiation through work, prayer, education, apology, and forgiveness. Galland and a JULY 27, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25