Clarksville, Tennessee – Austin Peay State University’s Latino Community Resource Center and the Olive Cemetery Historic Preservation Society teamed up with several university organizations earlier this month to host an educational tour and cleanup day at the historic cemetery. On Sunday, November 7, a crowd of APSU community members visited the cemetery to protect and preserve the largest private cemetery for African Americans in Clarksville.
The volunteers were divided into two groups that afternoon, allowing them to take turns to identify and clean the cemetery.
“You join us on this journey to discover, honor and celebrate Clarksville and Americans, many of whom were slaves who considered Mount Olive their last home of rest,” said Mike Talento, director of education for the Conservation Society.
The cemetery was built in 1817 and contains about 1,350 graves. In recent years, 241 civilians and 32 veterans have been identified — including 30 U.S. Colorados, a Buffalo soldier and a World War II soldier.
Earlier this year, APSU student and GIS Center Josh Gramlick partnered with the local Historical Preservation Society to help tell the story of the African American soldiers buried at the site.
The geography student spent the summer working with the Society for the Preservation of History at the Mount of Olives cemetery to create a brochure and a digital story map to share stories.
“We’ve been walking around the site a few times, collecting GPS data points for these tombs – you can barely see some of them,” Gramlick said. We went to each site, and got the exact location of all the sites. The locations you see on the maps are accurate and related to each of the veterans.”
Gramlick also got a hand from fellow GIS colleague Javon Dixon, an APSU senior computer science and graphic design minor who refined the book’s final design.
In November last year, the Mount of Olives cemetery became part of the National Register of Historic Places. The last burial was in 1958.
“Looking back in time, this was not always a work in progress that looked like a very beautiful and serene cemetery,” Talento said. “This was a dump of rubbish and junk, and it took a community effort to turn it into a place where we can come and reflect on our past and honor the families and adult citizens here.”
The History Preservation Society meets at the Mount of Olives Cemetery at 5 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the Clarksville Montgomery County Public Library. The association encourages anyone interested to participate.
The November 7 cleanup was sponsored by the Austin Peay Latino Community Resource Center in collaboration with Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center, and the Military Student Center.