African American cemetery from 1897 to be considered for Register of Historic Places

Benevolent Cemetery in Murfreesboro
Posted at 6:58 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 19:58:58-05

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Sometimes places with a powerful and important history can go unnoticed by many of us. That's changing for a cemetery that's the final resting place for generations of Black families.

You respect those who came before. That's the belief of the African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County. President Mary Watkins and secretary Margaret McKinley feel the history walking through Murfreesboro's Benevolent Cemetery.

"This is Jesse Crockett," Watkins said, leaning over a grave. "He fought in WWI."

"You can tell the family of Mary Washington really loved her," added McKinley, looking at a grave that was engraved by hand.

The cemetery has been here since the late 1800s, the resting place of Black families who lived through the Civil War and the Jim Crow years.

"It was segregated, so all the African Americans were buried here," said McKinley.

With an Enterprise rental place right next door, a lot of people wouldn't expect to find this sort of history here.

"This would have to be a point of destination for you to even find it," said McKinley. "A lot of people don't know this place exists."

In years past, the cemetery was often overgrown. The society has more concerns today.

"Some of the headstones have broken, and they've fallen over," said Watkins. "Some of these markers were intentionally knocked down. I think they're being disrespectful to the dead."

Now, they're on a path to change that.

After efforts from the society and students of the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, the cemetery was approved by a state review board Wednesday and will now go up for consideration for the National Register of Historic Places.

The hope for the society is this new focus will bring the funds they need for the restoration of the cemetery.

"We owe it to the people themselves because we are sitting on the shoulders of the people who are buried here for what they've done," said Watkins. "We want the people to know they're gone, but we haven't forgotten them."