Will Air Products Desecrate Graves of the Enslaved in Ascension Parish?

Air Products wants to build a hydrogen and ammonia plant in Burnside, Louisiana, on the former Orange Grove Plantation – once owned by John Burnside who by 1860 enslaved over 750 people on his sugar plantations in the town named after him.

Records recently obtained from the Louisiana Division of Archeology show that Air Products is only now conducting an investigation to find unmarked graves on its site after fully designing its plant and seeking construction permits. Those records show that the company has found stones that “resemble grave markers” outside of a small cemetery believed to have been for the plantation’s owners, but there is no indication that Air Products has attempted to find the descendants of the enslaved people who were likely buried there. There is also no indication that Air Products has revised its plans in light of its discovery, or that it will do a comprehensive search throughout its property. RISE St. James has members who live in the area and are concerned that Air Products will pave over or otherwise destroy these sacred grounds.

Instead of sharing this important information with nearby communities, state records show that Air Products has been busy hiring 25 lobbyists in Louisiana ahead of the legislative session.

For comparison, Shell Oil Company discovered “the unmarked graves of as many as 1,000 slaves” on sugar plantations immediately downriver of and adjacent to the Orange Grove Plantation in 2013 when it surveyed its property for plans to expand the Shell Convent Refinery.  Shell Oil did not share this information with the public for another five years.

We cannot continue to allow these companies to desecrate our ancestors’ graves.

Congressman Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-La.) recently sent a letter to federal agencies calling on them to require industry to certify no burial grounds of the formerly enslaved on sites when seeking a permit. Congressman Carter explained that many burial grounds of the formerly enslaved are unmarked. The discovery of these burial grounds is critical to help families trace back their roots and preserve these sacred spaces for future generations. “History should be regarded as a means for understanding the past and solving the challenges of the future. Our community deserves better, and our ancestors deserve peace,” he concluded. RISE St. James echoes the comments of Congressman Carter.

Air Products should be transparent about their investigation of unmarked graves.
Air Products should expand their investigation to include the entire site of Orange Grove Plantation to ensure they do not desecrate any graves on the site, not just those near the slaver’s gated cemetery.

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