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Place names do much more than simply tell us where we are. 

Place names memorialize people, things, historical events, or ideas - but what? and for whom? In naming places and interacting with places, people also impart their memories and perceptions of those places. The names of those places become associated with people's lived experiences. These associations may be positive, but it may also be negative - and they may not be the same for everyone: while places and place names may be neutral or positive for some, they may be sites of pain and oppression for others. When the names chosen are painful, that pain imparted into the place as well.

it is for these reasons why the previous signage labeling the section as the "colored," or "Negro" plot is so inadequate and offensive. The term directly invokes the period between the 1870s and 1950s when people throughout America were socially - and legally - separated by racial categories; a time referred to as the "Jim Crow" period. 'Colored' was used as an umbrella term that was a shorthand for anyone not socially deemed as 'white,' and included Black Americans but also Indigenous peoples, those with mixed parentage, and others with non-European ancestry.

Segregation policies and the racist beliefs that upheld them justified a racial hierarchy in the US, and led to some of the worst acts of oppression and violence in US history - regardless of where one lived. For example, while many may associate the American South with some of the worst violence against Black Americans, Catholics, and immigrants, fewer people realize that in the 1920s both Binghamton and Buffalo were also regional capitals for the Ku Klux Klan, and locations from which the Klan could spread terror throughout Western NY and the Southern Tier (Rubin 1973; Laats 2012). In Schoharie, Klan activity in the 1930s precipitated a large migration of Black families out of the area (Daniels 1999), including many with family ties to individuals buried at the Middleburg Cemetery. 

As a socially-defined category, the boundaries  of who counted as 'colored' also shifted overtime, emphasizing their biological arbitrariness: in the 1870s, for example, people from Sicily and southern Italy were sometimes considered 'colored'; by the early 20th ce. they were included as 'white' (Staples 2019). In Schoharie, the arbitrariness of racial categories is seen most readily in the case of Abram Petersen, who we think was related to Jeremiah Van Zandt and Marion Petersen - both of whom are buried in the Middleburgh Cemetery. 


It's within this context of segregation and oppression that the segregated plot of the Middleburgh cemetery was established in the 1880s: the same 19th and 20th ce. burial practices segregating people in life also segregated people in death, and were based on imposed racial categories and broader harmful racist ideas. Racial categories limited people’s humanity homogenized their identity and impacted their life experiences, but often didn’t reflect the ways that individual people actually thought of themselves and their communities. 





. These ideas persist long after the end of Jim Crow.  It is no accident that the all individuals deemed 'non-white' were buried away from the main part of the cemetery, just like it's no accident that the area was later abandoned, forgotten, and desecrated.  


By rededicate this sacred ground without as, we can help celebrate the lives of those buried while also recognizing and honoring the diversity of identities, nations, cultures and life histories present. Crucially, we can acknowledge and contextualize the harms of the past without continuing to replicate them. We invite you to join us in this effort.

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