CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One of the oldest African American cemeteries in the mid-state was given national recognition last month when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Clarksville's Mt. Olive Cemetery was first established more than 200 years ago.
"Our first burial here was in 1817," Phyllis Smith, historian for the Mt. Olive Historical Preservation Society, said. "There’s a lot of history in this 7.2 acres."
That history is now being honored, as the cemetery is added to the National Register of Historic Places. The list, which is maintained by the National Park Service, documents sites and buildings across the country that are historically significant.
"I did a happy dance around my dining room table," Smith said with a laugh. The Mt. Olive Historical Preservation Society worked for years to get the African American cemetery on the register.
Smith said the recognition lines up with broader social movements about race. This year, protests for racial justice erupted across the country, and people are now reassessing how we view a past that has been cruel to African Americans, like the hundreds buried at Mt. Olive.
"Most all of the ones that died before 1900 that are buried in here were slaves," Smith explained. "I think the people that have always been in the hero category are being reevaluated even as we speak for should we keep them there or not. But as far as I’m concerned, every one of the people in here are heroes."