Ramapo proceeds with silent march and vigil for Black Solidarity Week

Black Solidarity Week continued on Monday with the Silent March and Vigil, following Sunday’s clean-up at the Hopper Slave Cemetery. This week is hosted annually on Black Solidarity Day by the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance (EDIC).

Escorted by Public Safety officers from the Arch to the cemetery, attendees joined Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Nicole Morgan Agard as she led the vigil to “pay tribute to the slaves that rest here in the cemetery.”

Agard first acknowledged guests in attendance from the Mahwah Historic Preservation Commission (MHPC). Over the summer, the MHPC worked with Boy Scout Peter Kaya Gretchikha to lead his peers in a clean-up of the cemetery where, according to Agard, they cleaned up leaves, trimmed the brush, repaired the rock wall and helped “to make this area an educational piece that can proudly be shared with the public.”

The MHPC installed a plaque at the end of the clean-up, so visitors of the cemetery can understand what resides in the space and the meaning of it.

“We are all standing on sacred ground, the burial site of slaves,” Agard said before sharing some of the history from the Ramapo archives of the slaves and freedmen on the three visible gravestones.

One of the graves reads “In Memory of Joseph Harrison,” who died June 1 sometime in the 1800s, but the year and age are unclear. Another memorializes the son, George, and two daughters, Mary and Hannah, of York and Jan Harrison. Agard shared the possibility that the three children passed away from an illness.

The final gravestone, which is the shape of a cross and is more sunken into the ground, reads “Samuel Jennings” with “IHS” written on the back. Agard said that according to records from EDIC and the Center for Student Involvement, there used to be other deliberately placed stones for slaves that might have since sunk into the ground. 

“Today, we remember these individuals and all other unknown slaves that are buried on this ground,” she said.

To conclude the vigil, apple slices were passed around to attendees. Agard explained that the slices would be used to perform a libation by throwing them into the Ramapo River. 

“It’s a ritual that’s used in traditional African life that involves the offering of a liquid or fruits,” she said. “It is believed that once we have honored the spirits, we have changed the energy in our lives to open the way for them to return blessings and favors to us.”

Following a brief moment of silence, she then invited the attendees to the edge of the cemetery that overlooks the river to throw the slices. 

“We pay respect to these slaves and to all of our ancestors who laid the foundation for human civilization and continue to inspire us toward regenerating our spirit and reclaiming our greatness as a people,” Agard said. “Let us never forget that they made it possible for us to be standing here today.”




Featured photo courtesy of Ramapo College of New Jersey