TOMBSTONE INSCRIPTIONS FROM BLACK CEMETERIES
IN MADISON COUNTY, TENNESSEE
Compiled by Jonathan K. T. Smith
COPYRIGHT, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1995
Special thanks go to Jonathan K. T. Smith for his work to preserve and share this information about black cemeteries in Madison County and for giving permission to convert this work to web pages.
EASTSIDE CEMETERY AND MT. OLIVET CEMETERY
In December 1878, John Lake, sexton of Riverside Cemetery, urged the Jackson city council to make "arrangements for more ground for the purpose of burying colored people. That part of the cemetery set apart for that purpose is nearly occupied...." (Council Minutes C, page 132) In the early 1880s the city acquired 3 acres of land about a mile east of court square, on the north side of Chester Street for use as a cemetery for black citizens of the town. This location was more particularly described in the LAWS AND ORDINANCES OF THE CITY OF JACKSON, prepared by Pleasant B. Robinson and David H. Haynes, Chapter 7, Article I. (Jackson, 1888), pages 68-69. "That the city having established and provided a burying ground for the colored citizens, as hereafter provided, no permit shall be issued for the interment of colored persons in said cemetery /Riverside Cemetery/ except to such as of them as own lots therein. That the lot of ground belonging to the city of Jackson, lying on the north side of the Jackson and Mifflin Road /East Chester Street/, about a quarter of a mile beyond the eastern boundary line of the corporation, containing three acres, more or less /actually four acres/, be and the same is hereby devoted, dedicated and established as a cemetery for the colored citizens of Jackson, to be known and designated as 'Eastside Cemetery.'" This ordinance was based on "legislation" of the Council in 1887. This cemetery was laid off into lots.
Eastside Cemetery served its useful purpose for about ten years. In February 1886 it was noted that in the past year alone 63 interments had been made there. (Council Minutes, 1883-1887, page 500) By early 1893 the Council decided to close the Eastside Cemetery and acquire other land for a burial ground for the colored citizenry, that and the Jewish cemetery, as it was feared that drainage was such that water would pass through these burial areas and contaminate the city water-works. In May 1895 the Council provided that four acres be purchased from Robert A. Hurt adjoining Mt. Olivet Cemetery, north of Jackson and burials were forbidden to be made thereafter in Eastside. Persons with lots there, however, were automatically allowed lots in the newer burial ground, which became a part of Mt. Olivet Cemetery. (Council Minutes G, pages 240, 331, 503, 587, 603)
For several years the Eastside Cemetery lay unused, fenced in. Early in 1902 the Council was at the point of selling the Eastside tract but a black man, Lawrence Ellison, filed for an injunction against this move, ending that proposal.(Council Minutes I, page 208) In February 1903 the Council agreed with Robert A. Hurt that if he would refence Eastside Cemetery, needing fence repairs as it did, he could "take charge" of this cemetery. (IBID., page 309) It is likely that some remains of persons buried in Eastside were exhumed and reburied elsewhere, perhaps in Mt. Olivet but apparetly most graves were left undisturbed. With its use as a cemetery long in the past, the four acre cemetery site was approved as an East Chester Street playground called Centennial Park in the early 1920s.
Several of the leaders in the Jackson black community organized the Mt. Olivet Cemetery Association and as such on March 11, 1885 bought 7 83/100 acres for $80 from A. C. White at the southwest corner of William Hicks' tract just north of the city limits, facing a street then called Enloe; now the location is at the north side of Forest (formerly Enloe) Avenue about midway between Highland Avenue and Royal Street. The trustees at that time were Wade Hampton, George Collier, Levi Brown, C. H. Lea, J. C. Watson, N. M. Snow, Lawrence Ellison and Jack Saunders. (Madison County Deed Book 42,page 279)
On June 15, 1895 the city spent $150, paid to Robert A. Hurt, for four acres to add to the black cemetery, being what is now the western section of Mt. Olivet Cemetery. (Madison County Deed Book 53, page 284) Hurt had just bought this same four acres from the Vann heirs evidently with the plan to arrange with the city a deal to make this part of the black cemetery known for several years as Mt. Olivet Cemetery, however the city at first called this section the North Side cemetery, a name soon abandoned. At first, Hurt had also offered to swap the Eastside 4 acres for the 4 acres on Enloe Street but that proposal fell through. On June 22,1895, just days after the first acquisition, the city bought a parcel (acreage undefined) for $80 from J. J. Teague, being what is now the far eastern section of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, extending with fencing (as per the deed) from the street northward to the "bluff," the huge drainage ditch on the back side of the cemetery. (Madison County Deed Book 53, page 291)
In the 1900 tax record of Madison County, civil district fifteen, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, a private corporation, was reckoned at 20 acres, facing Enloe (Forest) Street on the south; bordering Vann property on the north, Teague property on the east and Clayton property on the west.
In February 1886 it was reported that 60 persons had been buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in the past year. (Council Minutes 1883-1887, page 500) In the mid-1890s the Mt.Olivet Cemetery Association, a private organization, was lead by Levi Brown, president; A. R. Merry, secretary; Reverend Charles Moore, treasurer; R. Hassell, superintendent. (JACKSON DIRECTORY, R. L. Polk Co., 1896, page 28)
Mt. Olivet Cemetery was the principal burial ground for the black citizens of Jackson for many years and interments continue to be made there regularly. There are many unmarked graves in this cemetery. Some tombstones, more particularly the "home made" sort have not worn well and the inscriptions thereon could not be read entirely or in part when all the inscriptions in the cemetery were read for the present survey in 1994. There are also many funeral home markers at graves, as is the case in most all cemeteries, most of which are now rusted and missing their panels of information. As far as is known, all legible inscriptions in this cemetery have been copied except for one on a large tombstone that had fallen over deep into a sunken grave, face down.
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