UT Knoxville Faculty Breathe Life into Historic Knoxville Cemetery

KNOXVILLE — Several professors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have teamed up with the Knoxville Re-animation Coalition (KRC) on a restoration project at Odd Fellows Cemetery in East Knoxville. Architecture Professors Katherine Ambroziak, Brian Ambroziak, Ted Shelton and Tricia Stuth will work with KRC and other members of the community to design a restored and reanimated cemetery.

To kick off the project, KRC is hosting an “illumination” event at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at Odd Fellows Cemetery. Over 1,000 luminaries will be placed throughout the cemetery, along South Kyle Street and portions of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, leading to Dr. Walter Hardy Memorial Park. At 5:45 p.m. Rev. Christopher Battle of Tabernacle Baptist Church will give a special invocation. A presentation by KRC will follow.

In the case of inclement weather, the invocation and announcements will be made in the congregation hall of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2137 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

The mission of KRC is to educate and create wealth amongst Knoxville’s African-American community through projects that illuminate and valorize its past achievements. The Odd Fellows Cemetery restoration will be KRC’s inaugural project and its official introduction to the Knoxville community.

Two schools are within walking distance of the cemetery: Austin East High School and Vine Middle School. For decades, students in the surrounding neighborhoods have walked past the cemetery between Bethel Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The cemetery currently is overgrown with shrubbery and isn’t as well-manicured as other cemeteries in the area.

The professors currently are developing physical, climatic, historical and cultural surveys and exploring opportunities by which the cemetery may serve as a place of community engagement, activity and memory.

The cemetery’s proximity to area schools and surrounding communities influenced KRC’s plan make the restoration project an educational tool for students as well. KRC plans to integrate Austin East and Vine students into the project by letting the students develop research and communication skills to bring to life the forgotten memories of those interred in the cemetery. This “Odd Fellows Scholars Program” will soon be integrated into the curriculums of area schools. School of Art professor Sarah Lowe and architecture professor David Fox will assist with the scholars program.

Through the program, KRC hopes to help prepare youth for higher education — in neighborhoods where a low percentage of students graduate high school — and to help rekindle a forgotten sense of pride in this historic Knoxville community.

In order to research and explore the potential of the two projects, the UT Knoxville faculty, with the help of KRC, plan to hold community workshops to involve the neighborhoods with plans for the cemetery’s restoration and reanimation.

Odd Fellows Cemetery is a predominantly minority cemetery dating back to 1880.

“The cemetery is a window into Knoxville’s early 20th-century African-American community,” said Katherine Ambroziak, assistant professor in the School of Architecture.

“The restoration project will be a learning tool for our architecture students and an opportunity for the younger generations in those communities to learn about the generations before them,” she said.

Both the restoration project and the scholars program will use the cemetery as a vehicle to give a face back to famous Knoxvillians, such as Cal Johnson, who lifted himself from poverty to become this city’s first African-American millionaire and one of the richest men in the state.

KRC was created for the community and is not connected to any one face or individual. The long-term goal is for the community to take ownership of the organization and the future of youth in the area by reclaiming the rich history that is literally buried in its back yard.

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Contacts:

Katherine Ambroziak, (865-974-3270, aambrozi@utk.edu)

Kristi Hintz (865-974-3993, khintz@utk.edu)