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"The Souls Can't Rest": Racial Revenants and Nonsecular Urbanisms in the U.S. South
Paper short abstract:
Based on long-term fieldwork in Tampa, Florida, this paper explores the controversy around a once-forgotten, recently rediscovered African American cemetery in order to theorize the place of race and haunting in postwar urban planning.
Paper long abstract:
In what ways do violent pasts reassert themselves in the present? In 1950s Tampa, Florida, an African American cemetery, somehow "erased" from municipal records, became the site for the construction of a modernist public housing project. For many decades, the cemetery lay forgotten and forsaken. In 2019, however, the existence of the cemetery and the bodies interred therein was brought to light by the efforts of local activist-historian. The revelation of the cemetery was accompanied by a flurry of social activity. Archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the presence of coffins and bodies. Residents of the public housing project lying atop the cemetery reported a series of ghostly visions and visitations. The city and its residents debated the significance of the cemetery for the past, present, and future of Tampa. Based on long-term fieldwork on the affective politics of race and empire in South Florida, a region marked simultaneously by global forces of "urban renewal" and entrenched structures of class, gender, and racial inequality, this paper will investigate the coming-to-light of the cemetery and its social aftermath to inquire into the logics and limits of postwar urban planning. Built on the assumption of the mutability of the built environment and its emotional ecologies, efforts to transform the city must inevitably wrestle with the stubbornness of the material and affective worlds they seek to remake.
Unearthing Memories: Remembering and Forgetting as Subterranean Practices