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GIS Center students create brochure, story map to preserve African American soldiers’ stories

The story map guides visitors through the stories of the cemetery’s interred veterans..

(Posted on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021)

Josh Gramlick
Gramlick at the GIS Center.

Earlier this year, Austin Peay State University and GIS Center student Josh Gramlick partnered with a local historical preservation society to help tell the story of Clarksville’s African American soldiers.

The geography senior spent the summer working with the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society to create a brochure and a digital story map to share the stories.

“We’d walk the site several times, collecting (GPS) data points for these graves – you can barely see some of them,” Gramlick said. “We went out to each of the sites, and we got the exact location of all the sites. The sites you see on the maps are accurate and associated with each veteran.”

The story map not only shares a detailed history of the cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but also the stories of each soldier buried there. Those stories include soldiers who served during the Civil War, in the Western United States after the Civil War and during World War II.

Gramlick also got a hand from fellow GIS student Javon Dixon, an APSU computer science senior and graphic design minor who polished the brochure’s final design.

“It really touched me knowing that I’m taking a large part of Clarksville and working to bring it back to life,” he said. “It was a major deal for me bringing any type of skill towards that project. It was a big influence for me, and hopefully, it will influence others to make a change in Clarksville.”

Senior Javon Dixon polished the brochure for the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society.

‘A journey to discover the history’

Chesterfield Dabney
Corp. Chesterfield Dabney served with the 16th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Co. F during the Civil War.

GIS Center Director Mike Wilson lauded Gramlick and Dixon’s work, not only as an example of the center’s importance to the community but also as an example of the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society’s importance to the community.

“It’s really important to acknowledge the great work that they’re doing,” he said.

The Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society strives to help current and future generations discover and celebrate Clarksville’s African-American history. The people buried at the cemetery represent not only U.S. military veterans, but also represent the stories of local churches, schools and other historical organizations.

The cemetery, established in 1817, is Clarksville’s largest private African American cemetery with about 1,350 graves. About 241 civilians and 32 veterans – including 30 U.S. Colored Troops, one Buffalo Soldier and one WWII soldier – have been identified.

“The society members, there’s only a handful of us, we’re on a journey to discover the history of that cemetery,” said Mike Taliento, education director for the preservation society. “Anytime we can expand that circle and bring folks in who are passionate and interested in preserving that history, creating opportunities for the community, the county, the state and the nation to enjoy and understand our history, that’s part of the mission.”

A partnership to preserve, share history

Javon Dixon

The preservation society’s work with the GIS Center meets that mission by developing educational briefings, papers, guided and self-guided tours and lectures that share the cemetery’s history.

“I reached out to Mike Wilson, seeking an opportunity to develop a veterans locator map that could be used by visitors to come into the cemetery on their own, allowing them to walk through the cemetery and the gravestones of our veterans buried there,” Taliento said. “They developed a digital version of it, which is quite amazing, and we’ve linked that to our biography library, so as visitors tour the cemetery, they have the opportunity to pull up the biography of the soldier who’s buried there and learn all about him.”

Taliento praised Gramlick’s work and other partnerships the society has had with Austin Peay employees and students.

“He definitely did a lot of the heavy lifting, and he was very passionate about it,” he said. “We embrace every opportunity to bring students in, university professors in, anybody who wants to contribute to preserving our history.

“Tools like the map that was created by the GIS Center inspires folks to continue that preservation,” Taliento added. “I think we all, as citizens, have a patriotic and civic responsibility to do what we can to preserve our history and share it, pass it on to the generations that come ahead of us.”

In late October, two chapters of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. helped in a weekend clean-up at the cemetery.

How Austin Peay employees, students continue to help

Several Austin Peay departments and organizations have helped the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society over the years, Taliento said.

“From ground-penetrating radar support to clean-ups with us,” he said. “There’s been interest with the history department, which has supported our educational engagement.”

In late October, two chapters of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. (the Hopkinsville/Fort Campbell Alumni Chapter and Austin Peay’s Theta Beta Chapter) helped in a weekend clean-up at the cemetery.

And from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, Austin Peay students, faculty and staff will participate in an educational tour and clean-up at the cemetery. That effort is sponsored by Austin Peay’s Latino Community Resource Center in collaboration with Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center and the Military Student Center.

Also, Austin Peay Health and Human Performance professor Dr. Tyler Nolting is a society member.

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