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A new bill would preserve the historic gravesites of Black people in N.H.

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Executive Director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire JerriAnne Boggis.

A bill passed in the state Senate last month aims to preserve the gravesites of Black people in New Hampshire, many of whom were buried before slavery was abolished. Modeled after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the bill would provide for preservation work to be done on graves, like maintaining the surrounding area and marking headstones.

One of the leaders behind this effort is JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, a nonprofit that works to promote appreciation and awareness of African American history in the Granite State.

Boggis said caring for these graves is a way of honoring the history of Black people in New Hampshire.

“It returns the people that we have forgotten, that we erased, back to a sacred space and back to our memory,” Boggis said. “It returns the dignity of the human being. So many of our burial sites have been covered over in spaces where they're destroyed, not treated with dignity… It returns the humanity, the memory of that humanity, to people who were not treated well in life.”

There are some graves of notable figures in Black history in New Hampshire, including that of Ona Judge, a woman who was enslaved by George and Martha Washington. Judge fled the Washingtons and ended up in Portsmouth. Boggis said preserving Judge’s grave is a way of understanding American history.

“[Ona Judge’s] story is one of those stories that is really important to America's history, not just New Hampshire's history, because it talks about the story of enslavement at our national level,” she said.

Judge’s grave is in the woods in Greenland where, Boggis said, snowmobiles can run over it. Senate Bill 258 could change that.

“People don't know that it's a site because it's not protected, it's not marked. It's just in the woods, erased, disappeared, uncared for,” Boggis said.

Passing the bill, Boggis said, is a declaration that New Hampshire wants to be on the right side of history.

“It says that we want to correct an error. We want to do the right thing. So I can imagine, the more we do this, the more we get rid of stereotypes around people, the more we face our history in a clear and honest way, the better we can become as communities,” Boggis said.

SB 258 has bipartisan support and a public hearing will be held on it Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

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