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Black History Month: Restoration of Odd Fellows Cemetery Continues with City Support 
Odd Fellows Cemetery

It had become a field of weeds and destroyed tombstones. 

Odd Fellows Cemetery, one of Knoxville’s first African-American cemeteries, was neglected and overgrown. Then, in 2009, a community restoration effort began with the University of Tennessee School of Architecture, the volunteer-based Knoxville ReAnimation Coalition and the City of Knoxville. 

Established by various civic groups in the early 1880s, Odd Fellows serves as the resting place for some of the city's most prominent early black residents, including Cal Johnson, Knoxville's first black millionaire. 

The work of restoring and preserving the cemetery’s history continues today on the property, which is located on Bethel Avenue and adjoins Walter Hardy Park off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. 

“For several years we have helped a great deal with markers that had been knocked down and clearing weeds,” said Chad Weth, the City’s Public Service Director. “And we have supplied gravel, wood chips and other materials for pathways at the cemetery.” 

Work also included planting trees and paving to protect and preserve the site.

“We also regularly supply rakes, shovels, wheel barrows and other tools for volunteers who are helping to beautify the cemetery,” Weth said. Public Service workers mow the cemetery several times a year.

“Any time we can help provide assistance to a historic area in Knoxville, it is well worth our time. This cemetery was very unsightly and overgrown, and with it being in the center of a neighborhood, it has been very important and a much-needed project.”

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Public Service employees have even cleared areas with Bobcats and used open spaces of the cemetery as a kind of training site for employees, while maintaining parts of the cemetery at the same time with chainsaws when appropriate. 

Over the years, the City has celebrated the work and recognized the ongoing project to bring attention to this historic cemetery. 

In Spring 2012, Mayor Madeline Rogero, along with Councilman and former Mayor Daniel Brown, Steven Scruggs of the Knoxville Reanimation Coalition, and Katherine Ambroziak, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the UT, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Odd Fellows Cemetery at the intersection of South Kyle Street and Kenner Avenue.

Other work continues to bring about change at the cemetery. UT faculty members have worked with more than 1,500 community and student volunteers from Project GRAD, Chi Sigma Iota and Liberty Church to help map the cemetery's 250 stones.

Progress toward reclaiming Odd Fellows Cemetery as a public space could not be achieved without support from the City of Knoxville, said Ambroziak, who works with community volunteers and the Knoxville ReAnimation Coalition in continued restoration of the property. She also works with high school students to develop art projects to engage them in the rich history of the cemetery.

“The City continues to support us with donated materials, use of equipment and offers guidance with people interested in contributing to the project. We are so fortunate to have the City's support and blessing,” Ambroziak said.

Read more about the African Americans that have shaped Knoxville’s history on our Black History Month blog

Posted by ptravis On 15 February, 2019 at 3:14 PM