Members of the Treme Brass Band lead a second-line procession from St. Augustine Church to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 April 18 to honor the lives of 15 persons whose bones were recovered in a 2011 excavation of the old St. Peter Cemetery during renovation of a French Quarter property.
Oblate Father Emmanuel Mulenga, pastor of St. Augustine Church, celebrated a Mass for the persons, who are believed to have been of African or Native American descent. Some may have been slaves. “Their physical bodies did not limit their spiritual exercise,” Father Mulenga said. “We learn from that and move forward and become the peacemakers of today.
If we are to honor these, our ancestors, we have to look at the good they stood for, their efforts to overcome physical bondage.” Dr. D. Ryan Gray, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Orleans who coordinated the excavation, said there are at least 8,000 persons buried in the former St. Peter Cemetery, which operated from 1722 to 1789.
“It is significant to me because as an archaeologist, that is part of the ethical responsibility of dealing with human remains,” Gray said, “but at the same time, I hope this brings attention to the fact of the cemetery’s existence.”