Michael Moran’s Response to Visiting Love Cemetery


The experience of cleaning the graves at Love Cemetery is a profound one. Maintaining this 175-year old African American cemetery with the local community is a deep meditation on life, death, and the soul of American identity. I will never forget it. One becomes newly aware of the generations upon generations that have been lost and remained unseen. In paying tribute to Love Cemetery and its survival, I had the overwhelming sense that there may be no more necessary and immediate work than searching for a way to honor those upon whose backs this country was built, people who were once enslaved. What is all the more profound is that in this act of honoring the past we may be touching upon an unexplored source of healing for our present time.

Screenshot 2015-12-13 20.06.46Going to Love Cemetery inspired me. Our theater company in Oakland, CA, The Ubuntu Theater Project, does site specific theater productions in found spaces. Part of our mission is to enliven spaces that have been forgotten by the community and to reveal the latent vitality therein. There is perhaps no space more important and more in need of re-vitalization and care than Love Cemetery.

The word Ubuntu comes from a Zulu proverb and means, “I am because we are” and “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” Our theater is made up of a collection of artists who are committed to creating compelling works that unearth the human condition and unite diverse audiences through revelatory work.

Three of us hope to come and help create a week-long intensive workshop with whole community, including the four universities whose students and faculty are helping at Love too. The workshop would include cleaning Love Cemetery and creating and performing a ceremony of honesty and intent – in which we might plant the seeds of hope for racial reconciliation in our country.  If people are so moved. Truth, ragged as it may be, must be given its due; only then can reconciliation emerge. An offering.

Our purpose is two-fold. First, it would allow new people to enter Love Cemetery and experience what those who have intensely labored on Love know to be true—that the preservation of these cemeteries is essential to our cultural memory and healing.

1960s Marshall Wiley LunchIn our workshop, this knowing would be expressed through song, recitation, movement or dance, poetry, ritual, prayer, even silence. We would co-create whatever emerges, be it a ceremony of celebration or a rite of mourning and loss. Secondly, throughout this week-long workshop participants – whether they are descendants, students, faculty, community member or volunteer, would have the opportunity to meld local history, education, creativity, and agency into a piece of their own creation that reverberates with personal and public significance.

Finally, the underlying theory of this project is that in order for us to heal as a society we must discover and work to reveal the invisible ways in which we are intrinsically bound. All the arts have this potential, theater especially. This Zulu proverb which we’ve taken as our name – Ubuntu – reminds us constantly of our invisible connection. Theater has the capacity to create an experience that excavates this essence of our being:  that we are all intrinsically bound, not only to one another in our present time, but to our ancestors of ages past and the generations to come. If we do not take the time to value and seek new ways in which to honor our cultural history, we prohibit the possibility of healing for ourselves and we prevent it for the children of the future.

Love Cemetery is in many ways the epicenter of these past, present and future threads. If we can weave them together through Love, we offer ourselves an inspiring and very real possibility of hope.  Most importantly, we offer our children and our children’s children the future.

Michael Moran, MFA

Ubuntu Theater Project

Co-Artistic Director

























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Ghosts of Amistad screening in New Haven

 TONIGHT – Ghosts of Amistad film screening. 6pm, New Haven Museum
 Please join us TONIGHT at 6pm at the New Haven Museum (114 Whitney Avenue) for a screening of Ghosts of Amistadand a discussion with Marcus Rediker.
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Just Like Family

Felicia Furman’s newest post on “BitterSweet, Linked Through Slavery,” is superb, important, and nuanced, like her excellent documentary film, “Shared Histories.” Go to her website http://www.sharedhistory.org and buy the DVD “Shared Histories” and support Felicia’s work to fund scholarships for descendants. Felicia’s work as a white person who’s family once enslaved people is an inspiration for any and all who care about healing and reconciliation not only in the United States but everywhere.


In the blog BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery, we primarily focus on linked relationships between black and white people connected through US slavery—those descended from enslaved people or slaveholders who are linked by virtue of time, place or genetics.  Finding a linked descendant from before the Civil War is powerful and empowering.  We place a high value on these links because personal connections can create a compelling and intense desire for healing and reconciliation.   But I would suggest that there is another link that joins many black and white people today that is an important yet unexplored piece of our national culture.  This link occupies a more recent past, one which can provide another avenue of examination of slavery’s legacy and aftermath.

During much of 19th century US slavery, enslavers would often use the term “our family, black and white” to describe their relationship to the enslaved population.  This…

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Building Community: Cleaning up Love

“No history is mute.  No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.  Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.”
– Eduardo Galeano
Friends and family wrote and called me about the Love Cemetery cleanup this past Saturday, September 27th, 2014, in East Texas near the Louisiana border.

Wiley College Students at Love

Wiley College Students at Love

Archie Rison, one of our new volunteers, drove 400 miles round trip from outside of Dallas with his friend Obadiah Johnson, to help.   It was one of the few cleanups that I’ve missed in many years.   My cousins Philip and Sharon Verhalen were there with some of the Boy Scouts. Though Philip is the Scout Master, the Scouts who come do it strictly as volunteers. No merit badge. Over a dozen students from nearby Wiley College came, as well as a handful of students from East Texas Baptist University. ETBU faculty member, Dr. Sandy Hoover, chair of their history department, joined in again too. Members of the Marshall community, including one of Scout’s mothers came too. Without the vigilance and hard work of the Love Cemetery Burial Association, especially the President Doris Vittatoe, nothing can happen at Love, but that’s another story for another time. The behind the scenes work of organizing cleanups, sending in certified mail notices, and so forth goes on all year. Richard Johnson, Doris Vittatoe’s brother, moved back to Marshall a few years ago and has been a stalwart helper ever since. Archie wrote to tell me how it went: “I am so passionate about preserving the graves of my own ancestors that I regard helping at Love Cemetery as a part of my journey to show my appreciation.  Though I’m not related to anyone buried at Love, I feel an attachment to these brave souls.  They lived in a time when hope was a complicated task tied up with just staying alive.  The least I can do is show up and help.  Maybe this will influence others to do the same.  Though I drove 400 miles round trip, I would drive even further for such a cause. “I was especially impressed by the students from Wiley College who turned out to help, there were a least a dozen of them.  Remember NaQuita Elmore?” he asked.  “She was with us last April when we came out to Love with Ysaye Barnwell (insert link? To video?). “NaQuita was the one who walked over a mile to find the cemetery last April.  She led a handful of other Wiley students who hadn’t been there before either.  She was just so determined to find us!  They were all members of Wiley’s choir.  They started singing while they walked and it turned out to be such a great experience that this past Saturday, she suggested that they walk again, and started up singing. “Once they got to the cemetery and started clearing the graves, they just kept right on singing.  It was something!  It was like being at a choir recital except it was outside we were all working together.  It also reminded me of what I’ve heard and read about how people in slavery kept singing all day long, continuously, while they were out working the fields.”

ETBU Students at work

ETBU Students at work

Wiley College students

4-5-14, Wiley College students left to right: NaQuita Elmore, Marcus Shelton, Kylan Pew, Cameron Spearman, and Starsha, on either side of Ohio Taylor’s headstone. Taylor was born in 1834 and died in 1918. He is Mrs. Doris Vittatoe’s great-grandfather. Vittatoe is the President of The Love Cemetery Burial Association. Photo by Archie Rison

New (to us) headstone found during 2013 cleanup

New (to us) headstone found during 2013 cleanup

9-28-14, Sunday, the next morning, I had a chance to talk to NaQuita again, the young woman from Wiley who’d gotten her fellow students together last April, when Ysaye Barnwell was here. NaQuita shepherded half a dozen of her fellow students out the road to Love and surprised us. There’d been a mixup on timing and we’d thought we’d missed them but they were not about to get left out. Just before choir practice on the 28th, NaQuita and I talked by phone so that I could hear more about this fall cleanup and what it meant to her. “Finding our way to Love in the spring was humbling. It pushed me to want to share this kind of experience with more of the Wiley students this fall. “You can see a thousand movies, but they can’t give you the actual experience. Walking the road to Love, we thought about how things were for our ancestors, what conditions they lived with. They didn’t have good shoes like we do. For them, if their feet hurt while they were walking, there was nothing they could do about that.  I started up a song as we walked and before we knew it, we were at Love. We got busy, picked up a tool and started to work, clearing the graves.  What if working in the fields was all you could do, everyday, in the heat? Think about that. A lot of people had no choice. Singing took your mind off your work.  Imagine what those songs did for our people.  It became a really great experience, a great bonding time with other Wiley students, with ETBU, and the Scouts.  It showed unity, coming together, and what can be done when everybody joins in and helps.  One of the ETBU students — Elizabeth — a white student, joined in as we were working and singing ‘Down by the Riverside.’  Racism still exists in our society, but then and there, it disappeared, color didn’t matter.  Being out at that cemetery is so amazing. There was a shot gun barrel, a piece of a sewing machine leg left as grave markers. My mind was racing, wondering what happened during those times. It made me want to go find more of this history, grab other students, make flyers, let more people know about Love. We’re all coming back.” Love has taken on a life and an energy of its own. The process of making our documentary has helped seed a  larger, inter-generational  community.  Reclaiming history, watering our roots, and singing are essential to it all.

Cleanup Begins

Boy Scout as Cleanup Begins

After the Cleanup

After the Cleanup

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Warning Stones

I don’t know how to articulate what I see in these “warning stones” from the Fukashima disaster three years ago, these messages from the Ancestors.  Nonetheless, I kept this photo and others knowing that I wanted to come back to this image and consider it more deeply.

            The shape of the warning stone is striking, like a headstone only it’s marking the future, not only the past.   The stones in Japan sit at the high water mark of centuries-old tsunamis.  The words carved across its face tell people to build their houses only above this marker.  Below, the stone says, in so many words:  build your house below this marker and the tsunami will devour you.

     I’m paraphrasing the warnings carved into the many different stones found again in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.  Together they make up a rudimentary tsunami warning system.  Ages past could not have predicted the nuclear disaster that’s still unfolding there.  These re-discovered stones are being studied as part of the larger challenge of how we warn future generations of the dangers we’re leaving them.

            Stones and stories, while appearing to be primitive technologically, may be the most effective way to alert future generations to the deadly stores of radioactive nuclear waste at Los Alamos, New Mexico, for example.   Warning stones are part of an ancient inter-generational set of stories that scientists are now studying to see how to safely and effectively transmit critical information to future generations.  It has to be simple, powerful, and effective.  Even then, there are no assurances.

    The headstones at Love Cemetery, indeed at any cemetery, are not generally stones that warn us of a natural disaster like a tsunami like these Japanese stones.   Still, there may be fruitful parallels here.  Today we have un-natural disasters, like Fukashima, like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which future generations need to be aware of.

         Perhaps this October evening, it’s enough to reflect upon the resonance this image struck, this chord that reverberates as I look at it.  It tells me that people in ages past left us signs, gave us information, carved warnings for us, gave us a symbol systems, maps in another way.   It tells me that these ancestors were on our side, that they tried to provide us with what is needed for life to continue, for us to flourish.

            And that we need to be attentive, to take care, to pay heed.   To not dismiss old wives tales and warning stones, and myths.  Perhaps those dragons guarding caves in stories were not enemies after all, but in fact, great ancestral friends from another realm, who protect us from the limits and errors of human kind.
         If we will listen.  If we will read their ancient signs.

         The villagers who brought their children up studying their village tsunami stone and heeding its warning about where to build, survived.  Other villages who ignored these stones were wiped out.


         Love is so strong that it can cut into stone itself and love will take the time to do so.  Moreover love will thoughtfully locate itself at the most critical juncture, at the balancing poing between life and death.   Love locates itself at the boundaries, the outer limits, holds the extremities.  Our ancestors took the measure, learned at great cost what it takes to live.  Then they recorded the measure in stone, that we might live.

         Halloween is upon us – all Hallowed’s Eve in the Christian tradition,  All Saints Day the next, the Day of the Dead.  Other say that Halloween is an ancient harvest festival that predates the churches by thousands of years.  It’s part of the cycle of celebrations of harvest and planting.   There’s more to Halloween than American trick or treating.  The trick is to celebrate and give thanks amidst the hilarity and surprises, the silliness, the clowning, the mystery and the disguises; the treat is to encounter the unexpected, to let ourselves also have a genuine encounter with the spirit and the wisdom of those who’ve gone before.

         It is good to honor these Ancestors known and unknown and to thank them, even for their warnings.
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Three Generations

I was struck by a handful of news stories that appeared about “ancient warning stones” just after the tsunami struck Fukashima in the spring of 2011.


 MIYAKO, Japan — Modern seawalls failed to protect coastal towns from Japan’s destructive tsunami last month. But in the hamlet of Aneyoshi, a single centuries-old tablet saved the day.


“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the stone slab reads. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”
It was advice the dozen or so households of Aneyoshi heeded, and their homes emerged unscathed from a disaster that flattened low-lying communities elsewhere and killed thousands along Japan’s northeastern shore.


Hundreds of such markers dot the coastline, some more than 600 years old. Collectively they form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries.


The markers don’t all indicate where it’s safe to build. Some simply stand — or stood, until they were washed away by the tsunami — as daily reminders of the risk.


“If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis,” reads one.
In the bustle of modern life, many forgot.


“People had this crucial knowledge, but they were busy with their lives and jobs, and many forgot,” said Yotaru Hatamura, a scholar who has studied the tablets.


One stone marker warned of the danger in the coastal city of Kesennuma: “Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables.” Earlier generations also left warnings in place names, calling one town “Octopus Grounds” for the sea life washed up by tsunamis and naming temples after the powerful waves, said Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning at Tohoku University in Sendai, a tsunami-hit city.


“It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades,” he said.


Centuries-old Japanese Standing Stones


One of better stories on the warning stones:


Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts
June 23rd – 28th, 2015
The Association for Gravestone Studies
Greenfield Corporate Center
101 Munson Street – Suite 108
Greenfield, MA 01301


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“The Most Important Influence In a Neighborhood is…. ”

Dr. Felton Earls’ research at the Harvard School of Public Health on

The Most Important Influence In a Neighborhood   

Dr. Felton Earls

 Ten years ago The New York Times ran a story I never forgot, a story that confirmed my sense that Love Cemetery mattered in ways that we hadn’t thought of, and that it matters to a larger community than we had yet realized.   I cut out the story about Dr. Felton Earls, then at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and his extraordinary research project in criminology. Dr. Earls is now Professor Emeritus at Harvard Medical School.   Felton Earls ought to be a household name.

By 2004, when Dan Hurley’s feature on Dr. Earls came out in the Times, Earls had already spent a decade running one of the longest, most expensive, and well-researched studies of criminology to date.   Backed by ten years and over $51 million of research, Dr. Earls, concluded that the most important influence in a neighborhood …. is a neighbor’s willingness to act on behalf of the benefit of another’s need, “particularly for the benefit of another’s children.”

Though his research was on the development of criminal behaviour,  Dr. Earls noted that his background is public health, that his concern was ultimately on discerning and documenting what makes a community work.   What makes the difference?   Why does one lot in a community get transformed into a communal garden, while another becomes a breeding place for rats?

What Dr. Earls and his researchers documented over the years, painstakingly, on video, was that the deciding factor is the neighbor — your neighbor, my neighbor – the neighbor who is willing to act on behalf of someone else, especially on behalf of someone else’s child.

In the full article (not what came up in the Times Archives this morning), Earls talked about the effect of the willing neighbor, about how equally strong an influence the individual is, as strong as a genetic influence or economics  He used the term “robust” to describe the neighbor’s effect.

“It’s all about taking action, about making an effort,” Dr. Earls said as though to say there’s no magic, there’s only effort and taking action, robust effort.

Thank you for following our effort, our action.  Every post you read, every message you forward, post, and circulate maximizes ours — Resurrecting Love!


Here’s the 2004 article on Dr. Earls by Dan Hurley, from The New York Times Archives:   “SCIENTIST AT WORK  — Felton Earls, On Crime As Science (A Neighbor At a Time)”   By DAN HURLEY   Published: January 6, 2004

  • “Dr. Felton Earls was on the street, looking for something at ground level that would help explain his theories about the roots of crime. He found it across from a South Side housing project, in a community garden of frost-wilted kale and tomatoes.

”That couldn’t be more perfect,” said Dr. Earls, a 61-year-old professor of human behavior and development at the Harvard School of Public Health. Gazing at a homemade sign for the garden at the corner of East Brookline Street and Harrison Avenue, he pointed out four little words: ”Please respect our efforts.”

”We’ve been besieged to better explain our findings,” he said. For over 10 years, Dr. Earls has run one of the largest, longest and most expensive studies in the history of criminology. ”We always say, It’s all about taking action, making an effort.”

Dr. Earls and his colleagues argue that the most important influence on a neighborhood’s crime rate is neighbors’ willingness to act, when needed, for one another’s benefit, and particularly for the benefit of one another’s children. And they present compelling evidence to back up their argument.

Will a group of local teenagers hanging out on the corner be allowed to intimidate passers-by, or will they be dispersed and their parents called? Will a vacant lot become a breeding ground for rats and drug dealers, or will it be transformed into a community garden?

Such decisions, Dr. Earls has shown, exert a power over a neighborhood’s crime rate strong enough to overcome the far better known influences of race, income, family and individual temperament.

”It is far and away the most important research insight in the last decade,” said Jeremy Travis, director of the National Institute of Justice from 1994 to 2000. ”I think it will shape policy for the next generation.”

Francis T. Cullen, immediate past president of the American Society of Criminology, said of Dr. Earls’s research, ”It is perhaps the most important research undertaking ever embarked upon in the study of the development of criminal behavior.”

The National Institute of Justice has so far spent over $18 million on Dr. Earls’s study — more than it has ever financed for any other project. The MacArthur Foundation has spent another $23.6 million on the study, likewise the most it has spent, and money from other government agencies has brought the cost of the project to over $51 million so far.

Dr. Earls came to his current work by a circuitous route that included one great leap. Born to working-class parents in New Orleans, he graduated from Howard University’s College of Medicine and pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin.

It was there that he met Dr. Mary Carlson, a neurophysiologist. They have been married for 31 years and are now collaborating on a project in Tanzania to promote the well-being of children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

When they met, they were both aiming for a white-jacket career in the laboratory. In fact, back in April 1968, Dr. Earls spent 36 hours straight, alone for much of the time, in a soundproof room, mapping the responses of a cat’s brain to various high- or low-frequency sounds.

When he emerged from his laboratory on the evening of April 5, the Wisconsin campus was in an uproar. Only then did he learn that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed the day before. Having participated in rallies led by Dr. King, Dr. Earls says he reacted instantly.

”I realized that I couldn’t have a career in neurophysiology. I couldn’t remain in a laboratory,” he said. ”King’s death made me see that I had to work for society. My laboratory had to be the community, and I had to work with children because they represent our best hope.”

Six months later, he left Wisconsin and went to East Harlem to train as a pediatrician, then to Massachusetts General Hospital to train as a child psychiatrist, and finally to the London School of Hygiene for a degree in public health.

His research is, in essence, about the health of communities, not just about crime. ”I am concerned about crime,” he said, ”but my background is in public health. We look at kids growing up in neighborhoods across a much wider range than just crime: drug use, school performance, birth weights, asthma, sexual behavior.”

His study, based in Chicago, has challenged an immensely popular competing theory about the roots of crime. ”Broken windows,” as it is known, holds that physical and social disorder in a neighborhood lead to increased crime, that if one broken window or aggressive squeegee man is allowed to remain in a neighborhood, bigger acts of disorderly behavior will follow.

This theory has been one of the most important in criminology. It was first proposed in an article published 20 years ago in The Atlantic Monthly, written by Dr. James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The theory provided the intellectual foundation for a crackdown on ”quality of life” crimes in New York City under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Today, ”broken windows” policing is endorsed by police chiefs across the country, its proponents sought out for lectures and consulting around the world. But from the beginning, Dr. Wilson concedes, the theory lacked substantive scientific evidence that it worked.”

The New York Times “SCIENTIST AT WORK — Felton Earls, On Crime As Science
(A Neighbor At a Time)” By DAN HURLEY, Published: January 6, 2004
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