For years, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students and faculty have been working with the City of Knoxville, the Knoxville Re-Animation Coalition, and the community to rehabilitate two historically and culturally important cemeteries in East Knoxville.
On Monday, April 30, UT and the city will have a ribbon cutting to celebrate the progress, which includes repaving and the creation of new curbs at the entrance of the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Potters Field.
The 5:00 p.m. event will take place at the intersection of South Kyle Street and Kenner Avenue in East Knoxville. This event is free and open to the public.
Mayor Madeline Rogero and Dan Brown, former mayor and the sixth district council member, will speak to the community about the importance of this first step.
A 5:45 p.m. meeting will follow the ribbon cutting during which community members can offer feedback about a proposed demarcation wall. The meeting will be in the Dr. Walter Hardy Memorial Park, 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
“Though a repaving and new curb may seem minor to some, we have already seen a great reduction to the water runoff settling in the cemeteries and cars no longer use it as a space to pull over,” said Katherine Ambroziak, project coordinator and assistant professor at the UT College of Architecture and Design. “We cherish these small steps of progress.”
UT is working on a master plan for the cemeteries, which, prior to the start of the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Potters Field Rehabilitation Project, suffered from nearly a century of neglect.
Odd Fellows Cemetery, which contains about 6,000 graves, was founded around1880 as burial ground for Knoxville’s African American community. Potters Field, founded in 1850, was once designated for the city’s poor and has an estimated 18,000 graves.
No plot maps exist for those buried in the cemeteries, and many of the markers are missing. The grounds are overgrown and the soil eroded. Access to the cemeteries is also limited, making visitation difficult.
The project’s team hopes to transform the cemeteries and the surrounding land into a place of pride for the community. Ambroziak, her students, and others involved have worked to stop the deterioration of the cemetery grounds, produce land surveys, establish a plot map and database of those buried in the area, and design a memorial area that is easy to navigate with markers and paths.
This spring, Ambroziak worked with Sherry Cable, UT professor of sociology, and her social justice class to continue documenting headstones in Odd Fellows Cemetery. She also collaborated with Matt Hall, a lecturer in architecture, whose students designed and constructed physical models of the demarcation wall.
“Odd Fellows Cemetery and Potters Field belong to the community, and we have been fortunate that residents have been willing to share their stories and vision with us for what this land could become,” Ambroziak said. “No one likes to see the cemeteries in this state of neglect. By working together, I trust that we can reclaim this land and improve it for future generations.”
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