CRITZ, Va. (WFXR)–Since the 1840s, over 60 slaves are buried in what used to be known as the Rock Spring Plantation. Many near the area now know it as the Reynolds Homestead.
The Homestead was the birthplace of tobacco tycoon R.J Reynolds, and metal tycoon R.S Reynolds.
According to the Julie Walters Steele, Director of the Reynolds Homestead, by 1850, the Reynolds owned 48 African American slaves. They used them to make bricks, serve as carpenters and blacksmiths, and more.
Within a few feet of the Reynolds home lies an unmarked graveyard of enslaved lives.
Steele says Michael Barber and Michael Madden, Radford University faculty members, conducted a survey of the cemetery. Based on depressions and placement of field stones, they were able to identify 61 potential gravesites.
To honor the lives lost, Billy Ray Sims and Ann McClellan, a basket weaver and a potter, created two artworks for the Homestead.
“Reaching for freedom” shows five clay hands reaching up from a tobacco basket-cage. Surrounding the outside is more than 40 names of slaves who lived on the plantation.
In what used to be the slaves’ kitchen is McClellan’s art piece, which shows clay cups with familial names on them like aunt, sister, and brother. Both artworks represent the injustice of basic humanity being stripped away from someone’s life.
Kevin Reynolds, who is a descendant of his great grandparents, says seeing the artwork made him feel good.
“You are recognizing them, and acknowledging them. In Patrick County there are a lot of cemeteries and a lot of people are buried in places where people don’t know where people are buried,” said Reynolds.
The artwork was gifted to the Reynolds Homestead, for generations to see and reflect.
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