Human remains uncovered at construction site of Gaillard Center

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - In 2013, the remains of 36 people of African decent were found at the construction site of the Gaillard Center in downtown Charleston.

On Tuesday, Charleston City Council will be voting on a resolution that would allow those remains to be reburied next to the center near the intersection of Anson and George streets.

At the time of construction there were no records that indicated it was a burial site.

The Gullah Society has been working with partners to learn more about the people through DNA testing that is currently taking place.

It’s a nonprofit dedicated to providing meaningful representations of Gullah Geechee culture to the public.

“These bones are the marrow of Charleston. They’re the inner part of Charleston,” said Dr. Ade Ofunniyin who goes by Dr. O and is the founder and director.

Researchers have determined the remains include 11 women, 16 men and seven children.

Two of them were infants.

"This is indeed an African burial ground but our emphasis is on this is a burial ground of the ancestors of Charleston because these ancestors belong to all of us," Dr. O said. "They predate some of the notions that we've developed over the many years about each other."

They believe the burials took place sometime between 1760 and 1800. The Gullah Society has been working with National Geographic Society through a grant using DNA evidence to learn more.

They say most of the decedents were born in West or Central Africa and some were born in the U.S. They say they could have been slaves but it’s not certain.

The efforts also include completing DNA tests on nearly 80 people who live in Charleston to see if there are any connections between the remains and the people living in Charleston now.

“This reburial should make all of us feel as one unit, because the 36 people that were here are all of our ancestors. Whatever they did before they passed was to build this city, was to make Charleston what it is now,” said LaSheia Oubre, the education and outreach coordinator for the Gullah Society.

The remains are being stored in boxes at a cultural resource consulting firm Brockington and Associates in Mount Pleasant.

“It’s right for the City of Charleston to acknowledge these people that they were buried there that their burial ground wasn’t marked, that we don’t have records for it that we know of so far,” said Joanna Gilmore, the director of research and interpretation for the Gullah Society.

The Gullah Society is planning a memorial ceremony and celebration on May 4.

The remains are expected to be reburied on a site next to the Gaillard Center at the corner of Anson and George streets. More results from the DNA testing are expected in the next few weeks.

The Gullah Society has received grants for the research efforts and has partnered with the National Geographic Society, the Coastal Community Foundation, the College of Charleston and The University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. O says other undocumented graves have been discovered in other parts of Charleston.

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