Re: Respect for the Dead (was Re: What a great group)

Vivian Volz (
24 Nov 1995 20:27:35 GMT (Susan Moyers Porter) wrote:
>In article
><>, "P.
>Creasy" <> wrote:
>"On Tue, 21 Nov 1995, Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx wrote:
>">A large
>"> Chinese cemetery in San Francisco was turned into Lincoln Park and a golf
>"> course was laid out over it. A similar cemetery for paupers and medical
>"> school cadavers in nearby Colma, California, was likewise turned into a golf
>"> course.
>"Um, excuse me Joel, but I'm a little confused here, I guess. You say not
>"all "disadvantaged" people, then refer to the Chinese cemetary. But, if
>"you had couched your terminology in terms more in keeping with the political
>"structures which allowed for such disinterment (maybe vulnerable or
>"politically impotent), it would seem those whose bones ended up in boxes
>"would all fit the category...and perhaps that is why they, in particular,
>"ended up "in boxes." Just a thought.

>(I don't think of Chinese people in San Francisco as politically impotent,
>since the
>Asian community there is so very, very politically powerful. And I have
>certainly heard of middle class and even upper class cemeteries eventually
>dug up and paved over for various uses.)

>I think, if there is a class that is vulnerable or politically impotent,
>it is the dead as a whole! [obnoxious Mississippi joke snipped]

Seems like at issue is not so much whether a group of bodies is
disinterred as what respect is accorded to them after they are
disinterred. There are practical reasons for moving cemeteries
(groundwater contamination, real estate values, the land is about
to be covered by a dam-made lake), and all but the most historic
cemeteries are moved out of the center of cities. What constitutes
"historic" is probably debatable. But it proves nothing about
disrespect of other cultures , nor about political power, to say
that the old Chinese cemetery in San Francisco is now a golf course:
what happened to the bodies in that cemetery *is* relevant to
those issues, and Joel and Lynn haven't told us what happened to
those bodies.

When a burial ground that is no longer marked is discovered, is it
treated like one's own ancestor's grave, or is it treated like an
anthropological dig? If it's considered a grave, it's probably
removed to another burial site, and hopefully with the knowledge
and permission of the people most likely to have ancestors' bodies
there. But in the old days of anthropology (I say the old days
only because I don't know what current anthropologists would do)
if it wasn't "our" culture's graves it was fair game for study,
museum display, and samples in boxes on shelves in libraries.