If Blanks hadn’t known this before visiting, though, she might have missed many of the graves completely.
With the Canaan community long disbanded, the cemetery has fallen into disrepair. The conditions Blanks found at Canaan that day were “deplorable”, as she described it – headstones barely recognizable, obscured by uneven earth, overgrown vegetation, and ant colonies. Through the bramble and buzzing mosquitoes, she was able to spot some signs of care, gravesites marked by medicine bottles, tools, and other objects that offered a glimpse into the deceased’s profession or interests.
Still, before she left, Blank snapped a few photos she would later post to Instagram. For the past year, Blanks has been cataloging historic Black cemeteries and burial sites on Twitter and Instagram as The Cemetery Sista. Not long after stopping in Bryan, she visited 12 cemeteries in Marion county, Texas, over the course of just two days, sharing photos of herself hiking around burial sites, feet obscured by tall weeds. She concluded the post with a hashtag: “Hot grave summer.”
“It’s a different perspective that I’m bringing to Black cemeteries and the story that you can tell with them,” Blanks says.
Blanks understands that visiting cemeteries can be fraught – bringing up feelings of sadness, regret, fear, familial duty and obligation. And, as a PhD candidate studying cemetery preservation planning and disaster management at Texas A&M, she understands, perhaps more than most, the effort it requires to maintain these spaces over the course of years, let alone centuries.