Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society works to keep cemetery’s Black history alive

WSMV's Justina Latimer reports.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 7:24 PM CST
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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A group in Montgomery County is working to preserve the history of the oldest African American cemetery in Clarksville, but the path to preservation hasn’t always been easy.

At Mt. Olive Cemetery, Black history lies underneath a canopy of trees.

“Sometimes when you get the sunlight coming in from different directions it is such a serene experience just to step into the cemetery and just be there,” explained Arthur “Nick” Nicholson, President of the Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society.

With an estimated 1,350 graves, the Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society aims to uncover the story behind every tombstone.

“The first burial was in 1817. Then we have no records of any other burial until 1875,” said group historian Phyllis Smith.

But the path to revealing who lies in the oldest African American cemetery in Clarksville wasn’t always clear.

“You walk in and look around and you can see a headstone, you can see that it’s a cemetery. When we first started out you really couldn’t see that. It just looked like a wooded area,” Smith stated.

So far, they know of 30 U.S. Colored Troops and multiple Black entrepreneurs.

“The courage of those individuals to leave the plantation and knowing the label of fugitive was going to be on their back, go and infiltrate the union lines and then later to put on the uniform and fight for the country.. Very significant,” Nicholson explained.

For this group, it’s a historical significance they don’t plan to let stay in the past.

“We die a second time when no one ever mentions our names again. So, we say we won’t let those individuals in Mt. Olive die twice by remembering their names,” said Nicholson.