Forgotten African-American graveyard is re-discovered - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: Alisa Nave, 5/17/04, 10:00pm

Forgotten African-American graveyard is re-discovered

By: Donna Davis

If you drive down South Parkway, you've probably passed an overgrown piece of history and never taken a second glance. For decades, people who spent a lifetime in this neighborhood didn't take notice either. "It was a great shortcut and this was all it was, a great shortcut and a great playground. We didn't have very many playgrounds back then. And we kinda made our own. And nobody every just came out and said you know, you guys are running on graves," said Marvin Veasy with Division of Corrections. Zion Cemetery rests on South Parkway between Dunnavant and Willett. It's been there for more than 125-years, and time has not been kind. "Once you go up in, I call it the forest, you go deep down into the forest, and you see some of the most beautiful graves, stone graves. Some of them are sunk in way in the ground. And to see it not being taken care of and going to waste for nothing," said Curtis Mayfield who supervises cleanup. Five years ago, all fifteen acres of Zion looked like this. However now, there's a small clearing in the forest. "It looked like a jungle. It's never been this nice and clean. It was full of weeds, vines, and everything. But it is beautiful now," said neighbor Odester Hudson. For the last two summers, inmates from the Shelby County Department of Corrections and members of the Glenview Community Development Partners have toiled to unearth the cemetery's history. "The farther you go, the move graves you get to the stone graves, the gates and there are some beautiful sights in there to be seen." The history books say former slaves established Zion Cemetery back in 1875 making it the oldest African-American cemetery in Memphis. However, the people who have come to know Zion believe it's much older than that. "We've been reviewing some of the older grave sights that seem to go back to, oooh, I believe to me back to slaves. I mean it. Some go back to seventeen something." It may take decades before the community can see all the history and beauty Zion holds within these gates. "I mean it's plenty of work to be done, and it's a long haul. It ain't an overnight thing. It's going to take some time. But when we get through with it, it will be worth the while of it everything." That's not lost on the neighbors who come to cheer on the crews. "It is very important, cause this is history. This is history," said neighbor Charles Milem.

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