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Cemeteries in the Red River Valley

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Shells dipped in concrete on a grave marker in Washington, Arkansas, which still has a segregation fence.

Some of the most visible cultural touchstones in our region (and in regions the world over) are located inside cemeteries. How a culture venerates ancestors and the dead says a lot about how it goes about in this world. Visiting graveyards isn't just contemplating "life after death," but also considering "how has the dominant culture behaved."

For example, the large majority of Caddo burial mounds have been destroyed by development, when Americans literally built homes on top of the mounds and plowed them over to clear fields.

For example, in many cemeteries in locations where cotton was "king," fences still denote the racial characteristics of the decedents. If the fence is gone, the neglect often isn't.

For example, "slave cemeteries" are hard to find because human traffickers didn't really care how their chattel was disposed of.

For example, young women were buried surrounded by the children who inadvertently killed them. And they may be buried next to the succession of women who replaced them.

For example, we visit the graves of outlaws for the notoriety but shy away from the graves of their victims.

For example, there is an insistence that the decorations on headstones symbolize things. Considering that the stones were mass-manufactured and often purchased from catalogs, the symbols were often commercial additions and convinced the survivors of meaning through clever marketing.

Lastly, shells or broken china on a grave plot often are methods to keep the grave clear from weeds. However, we've translated these actions into gestures of meaning.

What we see is what we interpret, so let's visit some observations of cemeteries around the Red River Valley. There are more impressions on the RRH Facebook feed, too.

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