Keynote Address

delivered by

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

Dorothea Dix Cememtery Dedication

May 22, 1997, 10:30 am

THANK YOU, DR. DAVID BRUTON, FOR THAT WONDERFULINTRODUCTION TO THIS VERY EXTRAORDINARY PLACE. THE HISTORY OF THIS CEMETERY IS REMARKABLE. OUR SINCERE THANKS GO TO DAVE DAVIS AND FAYE MCARTHUR, AND ALL OF THESE WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS FOR THE PERSONAL DEVOTION AND DEDICATION THEY HAVE SHOWN IN PURSUING THE RESTORATION OF THIS LANDMARK. THE COMMITMENT THEY HAVE MADE TO THIS MONUMENT HAS BROUGHT DIGNITY AND RESPECT TO THOSE BURIED HERE. ON BEHALF OF ALL NORTH CAROLINIANS, WE THANK EACH OF YOU FOR YOUR WORK HERE AT DOROTHEA DIX IN RESTORING SIMPLE HUMAN DIGNITY TO THE ONCE FORGOTTEN SOULS BURIED HERE.

WE ARE ALSO SO VERY GRATEFUL FOR THE SUPPORT OF THE A. J. FLETCHER AND MARY DUKE BIDDLE FOUNDATIONS AND THE SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION. WE PARTICULARLY THANK THE STAFF OF DIX FOR THEIR SUPPORT IN RESTORING THE CEMETERY.

IT IS MY PLEASURE TO BE HERE TODAY TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS CEREMONY. TRULY, THIS PLACE IS SPECIAL. IT IS NOT ONLY SPECIAL FOR THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO LIE HERE, BUT FOR ALL NORTH CAROLINIANS. SO IT IS RIGHT ON THIS OCCASION THAT WE TAKE TIME TO PAUSE AND REMEMBER THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE INTERRED HERE.

THIS CEMETERY IS PART OF THE HISTORY OF OUR STATE AND PART OF THE HISTORY OF YOUR FAMILIES. ALTHOUGH THIS DAY OF RECOGNITION HAS BEEN LONG IN COMING FOR THOSE WHO WERE BURIED HERE DURING THE LAST CENTURY, IT IS FINALLY HERE AND MARKS OUR RESPECTFUL RECOGNITION OF THEIR LIVES.

THIS DEDICATION CARRIES A DIFFERENT MEANING FOR EACH OF US HERE. FOR SOME OF THE FAMILIES, THIS DEDICATION MARKS AN END TO A SEARCH FOR A FAMILY MEMBER, A REALIZATION OF A FAMILY NEVER KNOWN, OR PERHAPS AN END TO A LONG HELD FAMILY SECRET. IT IS SAID THAT TO SEE YOUR FUTURE, YOU MUST REALIZE YOUR PAST. FOR MANY OF YOU HERE TODAY, THE PAST IS NOW REALIZED.

FOR NORTH CAROLINIANS WITH OR WITHOUT FORMAL FAMILY TIES TO THE CEMETERY, THIS DEDICATION ACKNOWLEDGES A SAD PART OF OUR STATE'S HISTORY - A HISTORY WHICH INCLUDES ABANDONMENT OF SOME OF OUR OWN CHERISHED CITIZENS, DUE TO OUR IGNORANCE AND FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. ALL OF US SHOULD USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO RECOGNIZE THE ERRORS OF OUR PAST AND TO BEGIN A NEW ERA OF CONCERN AND CARE FOR ALL OF OUR CITIZENS, REGARDLESS OF THEIR MENTAL OR PHYSICALAFFLICTIONS.

FOR ALL OF US, THIS DEDICATION REPRESENTS A LONG OVERDUE DEMONSTRATION OF RESPECT FOR THE HUMAN DIGNITY OF THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO CAME BEFORE US AND ARE BURIED HERE. ALTHOUGH THEIR LIVES MAY HAVE BEEN LIVED IN A TIME WHEN FEAR, MISUNDERSTANDING AND UNHAPPINESS FOLLOWED THEIR ILLNESSES, WE NOW GIVE BELATED RESPECT TO THEIR MEMORY.

THE DATES ON THEIR GRAVES MARK A TIME WHEN SOCIETY WAS IGNORANT AND FEARFUL OF THE COMPLEX DISEASES OF THE MIND. WE MAY NEVER KNOW WHAT FORTUNES OR MISFORTUNES FOLLOWED THOSE BURIED HERE OR THE EXTENT OF THE ILLNESSES WHICH PLAGUED THEIR MINDS, BUT TODAY WE CAN AND DO GIVE THEM THE PROPER RESPECT AND DIGNITY THEY WERE DENIED IN LIFE.

TODAY ALSO SHOULD BE A SYMBOL TO US ALL THAT LIFE IS PRECIOUS AND GOES BY QUICKLY. WHEN I WAS A VERY YOUNG MAN IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, I ONCE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO OBSERVE A LONG RELIGIOUS PROCESSION PASSING BY ON A MAJOR STREET. A MONK WALKED NEAR THE HEAD OF THE PROCESSION THROWING A SUBSTANCE THAT APPEARED TO BE TALCUM POWDER INTO THE AIR WHERE IT QUICKLY DISAPPEARED ON THE WIND. I WAS, OF COURSE, CURIOUS ABOUT THIS RITUAL AND ASKED THE YOUNG WOMAN WITH ME WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT. SHE TOLD ME THAT IT WAS A REMINDER THAT ALL MATERIAL THINGS, ALL EARTHLY POWER, AND LIFE ITSELF ARE EPHEMERAL AND FLEETING. THEY ARE HERE ONLY BRIEFLY THEN DISAPPEAR LIKE THE DUST ON THE WIND SOON TO BE FORGOTTEN. THAT IMAGE HAS STUCK WITH ME THROUGH THE THIRTY YEARS THAT HAVE PASSED SINCE THAT DAY OF MY YOUTH IN SOUTHEAST ASIA.

WE SHOULD USE THIS CEREMONY TODAY AS A REMINDER THAT NO MATTER WHAT LIFE WE LEAD, WE WILL ALL REST ONE DAY, THE POWERFUL AND THE POWERLESS, THE GIFTED AND AFFLICTED ALIKE. WE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT OUR FINAL REST IS IN A BEAUTIFUL AND PEACEFUL PLACE SUCH AS THIS, AND IN THE HEARTS AND MEMORIES OF FRIENDS AND FAMILIES SUCH AS THOSE HERE TODAY.

AS BRITISH PRIME MINISTER WILLIAM GLADSTONE ONCE REMARKED:

"SHOW ME THE MANNER IN WHICH A NATION OR ACOMMUNITY CARES FOR ITS DEAD AND I WILL MEASUREEXACTLY THE SYMPATHIES OF ITS PEOPLE, THEIR RESPECT FOR THE LAWS OF THE LAND, AND THEIR LOYALTY TO HIGHIDEALS."

THE WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS WHO MADE THIS DAY POSSIBLE, THE STAFF OF DIX, AND ALL OF US, TODAY DEMONSTRATE OUR CARE FOR THOSE RESTING HERE. THIS OCCASION TRULY ELEVATES THEM TO THE RESPECT AND DIGNITY WE ALL SEEK IN LIFE AND WE ALL DESERVE IN DEATH. A COMMUNITY WHICH CARES FOR THE PAST CARES ABOUT THE FUTURE. A COMMUNITY WHICH CARES FOR ITS DEAD CARES FOR ITS LIVING, AND A COMMUNITY WHICH RESTORES DIGNITY TO THE AFFLICTED IMPARTS DIGNITY TO ITSELF.

CEMETERIES PROVIDE LINKS TO OUR PAST, INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE. RESPECT FOR OUR PAST AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE IGNORANCE AND MISTAKES OF THE PAST MAKE OUR FUTURE BRIGHTER. WE ALL BENEFIT FROM THE EXPERIENCE AND MISTAKES OF THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE US. THAT EXPERIENCE DEFINES WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE ARE.

THIS LANDMARK WAS ONCE A PAUPERS' CEMETERY FOR THOSE WHO WERE WITHOUT MEANS, WITHOUT SUPPORT, AND WITHOUTACKNOWLEDGMENT. THE RESTORATION HERE REMINDS US THAT NEITHER DEATH NOR MENTAL ILLNESS SINGLE US OUT BY OUR MEANS OR BY THE MARK WE LEAVE ON SOCIETY. NEITHER DEATH NOR MENTAL ILLNESS RECOGNIZE INCOME OR COMMUNITY STANDING.

IN THE WORDS OF MARK TWAIN:

"DEATH, [IS] THE ONLY IMMORTAL WHO TREATS US ALLALIKE, WHOSE PITY AND WHOSE PEACE AND WHOSE REFUGEARE FOR ALL -- THE SOILED AND THE PURE, THE RICH AND THE POOR, THE LOVED AND THE UNLOVED."

THOSE WHOSE FINAL RESTING PLACE IS IN THIS LITTLE CEMETERY AT DOROTHEA DIX ARE FINALLY AT PEACE AND ARE LOVED WITHOUT QUALIFICATION. WE HONOR THEIR LIVES. WE GRIEVE FOR THEIR SUFFERING AND THEIR DEATHS. DUE TO THE EFFORTS OF YOU VOLUNTEERS AND STAFF AT DIX, EACH INDIVIDUAL HERE WILL BE REMEMBERED AT LONG LAST AS A CHERISHED MEMBER OF SOCIETY. IN GIVING THEM PROPER RESPECT, YOU BRING HONOR UPON YOURSELVES AND UPON ALL NORTH CAROLINIANS.