ROCHESTER N.Y. – A group of young men, part of GIS Scholars, Inc. are scouting through the worn tombstones in the military sections of Mount Hope Cemetery.
“We’re mapping African-American soldiers who fought in the United States Civil War who were given the name of United States Colored Troops,” said Thomas Cuyler, director of GIS Scholars, Inc.
Cuyler says with roughly 15 soldiers buried in the city-owned cemetery, something needed to be done, as some names and dates once engraved have become weathered over the years.
“What we wanted to do was to digitize them and put them on a digital map that’s interactive, that anybody can get to it because a lot of times if you were to look at some of these tombstones, they are beginning to erode and you can’t see a lot of the things,” said Cuyler.
The teens involved in the Rochester community-based youth program say they are passionate about the project.
Malik Jaff, a junior at School Without Walls, says it’s enlightening.
“I didn’t even know that we had soldiers in the Mount Hope Cemetery, it opens my eyes to a lot of the things and also I feel like my knowledge has really expanded about the community that I live in,” said Malik.
Aness Jaff, 13, is the newest and youngest member. Cuyler assigned him the task of mapping.
“I was just tagging along, but then he was like, 'oh, you could do this (mapping),' I was like, 'sure,' and it was kind of longer than I expected but I still got it done,” said Jaff.
Cuyler says the group partnered with the Rochester Public Library, and they also received assistance from Black History Scholar Dr. David Anderson, who cleans the grave sites and embellishes each soldier’s tombstone with American flag each year.
“This is a way to permanently document where these soldiers are who contributed to American history whose right here in our backyard,” he said.
The digital project will release on Juneteenth.