In early May, volunteers from around Clarksville prepared to spend an entire Saturday in the nearly forgotten Mount Olive Cemetery, clearing out weeds and fixing worn, broken headstones.
Austin Peay State University geology professor Dr. Daniel Frederick prepped the historic site, where some 1,300 African-Americans are buried, by using ground penetrating radar to locate many of the unmarked graves. Dr. David Nelson, assistant professor of history at APSU, helped organize volunteers, which included several groups of APSU students. Excitement grew around Clarksville as residents prepared to clean up the debris and garbage littering the old cemetery.
“To me, these people buried here are the pioneers of Clarksville,” Geneva Bell, executive director and president of the Mount Olive Historical Preservation Society, said shortly before the May cleanup day. “Some of them were born into slavery, but they’re the ones that did the manual labor, from the bottom up. Clarksville would not be what it is today without them.”But heavy gray clouds appeared over middle Tennessee that weekend, and before long, it began to rain. The downpour didn’t let up for hours and eventually led to the worst flood in recent memory. Rescue and salvage operations rightly took priority over the cleanup day, which was canceled.
A long, hot summer has passed since the flood of 2010, and volunteers are again organizing to head out into the Mount Olive Cemetery. On September 11th, cleanup crews will visit the cemetery for another attempt at renovating it.
The Preservation Society and the Hopkinsville, KY, Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are hosting this rescheduled community-wide cleanup.
“We want to get it in pristine order,” Rosemary Klein, assistant director of public affairs for the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said last spring. “There are some places that have a lot of brush. There are ravines with garbage in them.”
The volunteer day is geared at getting as much of the brush and debris removed from the area as possible, but the cemetery’s historic preservation society said the work needs to continue beyond that day to turn this wooded cemetery into a viable, historic site.
“The ultimate goal is to bring the cemetery up to where it can be a tourist attraction, so people will be able to know this is here and you can come and see history,” Bell said.