On this page we will provide information about laws that protect burial grounds and resources for researching, documenting and maintaining burial grounds.
African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act
In December 2022, a bill was introduced to amend title 54, United States Code, to establish within the National Park Service the United States African American Burial Grounds Preservation Program. The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Program will help identify burial grounds ahead of infrastructure projects and commercial development, thereby minimizing construction delays and avoiding unnecessary community heartache. It will assist descendants and communities in honoring and remembering their shared past by providing grant monies to identify, interpret, and preserve historic cemeteries.
For more information see: S.3667 - African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Act 117th Congress (2021-2022)
1965 - 2007
Preservation and Protection of Abandoned and Unmaintained Cemeteries 6-1-35, SC Code of Laws
Authorizes counties and municipalities to preserve and protect any cemetery within their jurisdictions that the counties or municipalities determine has been abandoned.
Destruction or Desecration of Human Remains or Repositories Thereof; Penalties 16-17-600, SC Code of Laws
Provides for penalties of up to $5,000 in fines, and imprisonment for not more than ten years for the vandalism or desecration of burials or grave markers, and lesser penalties for the destruction or injury of fencing, plants, shrubs, or flowers.
Removal of Abandoned Cemeteries 27-43-10 thru 27-43-40, SC Code of Laws
Requires a notification process before an abandoned cemetery is moved, approval by the local governing body, the relocation of the graves to a suitable place, and protection of grave markers through the move.
Access to Cemeteries on Private Property 27-43-310, SC Code of Laws
This law grants family members and descendants limited access to graves on private property. It requires owners of cemeteries on private property to provide reasonable access to family members and descendants of those buried in the cemetery. The law requires the person wanting access to the cemetery to submit a written request to the property owner.
City of Charleston Burial Grounds Ordinance
Code of the City of Charleston, Sec. 7.5-4. - Gravesite protection.
(a) Known or probable gravesites in the City of Charleston are protected pursuant to S.C. Code of Laws Section 16-17-600, and any violators of Section 16-17-600 are subject to the penalties provided for therein.
(b) It is unlawful for a person to destruct or desecrate a burial ground where human skeletal remains are buried, a grave, graveyard, tomb, mausoleum, or other repository of human remains without property legal authority. It is unlawful for a person to desecrate a gravestone, memorial monument, marker, park, or area commemorating a deceased person or group of persons.
(c) During any construction, development, re-development, or ground disturbing activity, if a person discovers or is otherwise put on notice of any known or probable gravesites on the subject lot, including but not limited to human remains, grave stones, grave markers, ground depressions, historical markers, historic maps, plats or surveys, photographs, or other indicators of probable gravesites, the person must immediately cease any ground disturbing work and report such notice to the city building official, as well as the county coroner and the appropriate state agencies including the state historic preservation office and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. No further ground disturbing activities shall commence until authorization to proceed is issued by the state or county and the city building official in accordance with state law.
See: Ord. No. 2021-126 , § 1, 9-14-21)