So far, I have been focused on the slave situation in NYC as it pertained to the African burial grounds in lower Manhattan. But let’s travel down south to discuss a really interesting connected event.
Meanwhile in Georgia…
In 1828, the Medical College of Georgia was founded. Like most medical schools of the time, being able to properly train doctors required cadavers. They, too, found themselves facing a shortage of body donations, but fresh graves meant opportunity (they did try to offer money for the dead, but the price was not right).
The dean of the college decided he had a solution. He went to Charleston and bought a slave named Grandison Harris (Gullah). This slave had one job- find fresh graves, dig up and deliver the cadavers to the school. The graves he reopened were primarily from the African American cemetery. Once again, this vulnerable population was exploited even after death. His stature and strength was intimidating. He became known as ‘The Resurrection Man’.
However, in order for Harris to be good at his job, he needed to learn how to read and write. These actions were illegal for slaves, but I think it’s safe to say that considering that they purchased a slave to rob graves, the college was not concerned with the legalities of literacy in 1852.
During his time at the college, Harris also had the opportunity to sit in on many dissections. He developed a comprehensive knowledge of the human body and began to assist with the classroom instruction. He probably would have made a fine doctor, had they decided to break a few more “rules” and give him his credentials.
Harris was said to have been efficient and successful at the task he was purchased to do. Based on an on-campus excavation that occurred years and years later, it is said that over 300 bodies were discovered, and many of those bodies attributed to Harris’ “work”.
Harris died in 1911 at the age of 95. Not surprisingly, Augusta culture is filled with stories of ghosts and hauntings.
We’re coming to the end of this series, and I really hope you’ve found the information interesting. Are you working on a project about this subject or a related subject? Do you have any questions so far? Want to give me a bit of feedback? Whatever it is, leave it in the comments. I’ll get back to you!
Stay tuned for the final installment of this series: Part 4: Laid to Rest…