Preservation and memory have played key parts in the development of international standards for human rights as well as informing transformative justice work. In Durham, this work is ongoing just two miles from Duke’s East Campus, at Geer Cemetery. Beginning in 1876, this public cemetery was where Black residents would be buried, a part of segregation in the South. Thanks to institutional neglect, the site closed in 1944 falling further into disrepair.  

Since 2003, the Friends of Geer Cemetery have worked to restore the cemetery and bring to light the thousands of histories laid within it.  

The Friends of Geer Cemetery, their success, and supportive efforts by Duke faculty and students have made the news recently. The New Yorker published an extensive article on preserving Black histories, including material from the Friends of Geer Cemetery and their president Debra Gonzales-Garcia. The Friends of Geer recently received grant funding for an archeological survey to locate lost graves. Duke Today, Duke Research Blog, and Duke Chronicle have all written on the project to restore Geer Cemetery, additionally highlighting the efforts of Duke students and faculty in conjunction with the local community.  

During the Summer of 2021, Adam Rosenblatt, a DHRC@FHI Faculty Advisory Board Member, President Debra Gonzalez-Garcia, and two board members of Friends of Geer, Dr. Nicholas Levy and Carissa Trotta, co-sponsored a Story+ program Geer Cemetery: Labor, Dignity, and Practices of Freedom in an African American Burial Ground. Undergraduate students Nyrobi Manuel, Kerry Rork, and Huiyin Zhou joined the program. Together, the team spent six weeks researching the history of Geer Cemetery, producing three digital research projects that have added to the Friends of Geer Cemetery’s online presence.