CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The remains of at least 19 slaves have been found by a historian on the site where developers hope to build a Topgolf and hundreds of apartments in University City. Residents in the area have been fighting to stall the 65-acre project on Mallard Creek Church Road and I-85. They say this discovery should be enough to bury it for good.
"His report only validates our concerns that there are actually slaves buried outside of the wall. Before his report, everyone was just ignoring us," said Darren Rankin of University City.
Small white flags now mark where each of the 19 bodies are buried just outside of the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery. The church's main cemetery has tombstones that pre-date the Civil War. The slaves were found buried beyond the stone wall enclosing the cemetery. Some graves were marked with rocks. Some were not marked at all.
"To know that people are buried there, and its sort of in a disrespectful manner, the forgotten souls," said Rankin.
Efforts to develop these 65 acres, which includes Topgolf's second Charlotte area location and new apartments, resurrected this part of our past.
"It was surprising to find out there were burial grounds on property we owned," said Matt Browder of Browder Real Estate.
Browder said he heard through media reports about the cemetery and hired a historian to verify if it was true. Ground penetrating radar was used to identify the remains of slaves. Browder says more bodies could be buried under tree roots that have been planted since the end of slavery. He says they believe the cemetery is confined to a small area just beyond the wall of the church's cemetery.
"It won't impact what we do over there on the other 65 acres," he said.
Browder says he asked the city to delay a zoning vote on the property earlier this month while they investigate the possibility of slave burial grounds. Now, he says he is looking forward to the city approving the plan July 17.
"I can't reiterate enough, these grave sites will not be impacted regardless of any zoning decision," Browder declared.
In the meantime, residents have been circulating a petition to stop the project. Rankin says he is not opposed to development but says for this project it is not a good fit.
"We still don't want Topgolf there regardless of how this turns out. The noise, the lighting, the traffic... we still think it's the wrong location for Topgolf," he declared.