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APSU hosts tour and clean-up day for historic Mt. Olive Cemetery

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Several Austin Peay organizations collaborated on the cleanup.

(Posted on Nov. 24, 2021)

Austin Peay State University’s Latino Community Resource Center and the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society teamed up with multiple university organizations earlier this month to host an educational tour and clean-up day at the historic cemetery. On Sunday, Nov. 7, a crowd of APSU community members visited the cemetery to protect and preserve Clarksville’s largest, private African American burial ground.

Volunteers were divided into two groups that afternoon, allowing them to take turns learning about and cleaning up the cemetery.

“You’re joining us on this journey to discover, honor, and celebrate Clarksvillians and Americans, many of who were slaves that would call Mount Olive their final resting home,” Mike Taliento, education director for the preservation society, said.

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The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cemetery, established in 1817, houses about 1,350 graves. In recent years, 241 civilians and 32 veterans – including 30 U.S. Colored Troops, one Buffalo Soldier and one WWII soldier – have been identified.

Earlier this year, APSU and GIS Center student Josh Gramlick partnered with the local historical preservation society to help tell the story of the African American soldiers buried at the site.

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.

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The cemetery has 1,350 graves. A few hundred have been identified in recent years.

“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.”

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.

In November of last year, Mount Olive Cemetery became part of the National Register of Historic Places. The last burial was in 1958.

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The historical preservation society meets on the third Thursday of every month.

“If we look back in the past, this wasn’t always a work-in-progress looking like a very beautiful and tranquil cemetery,” Taliento said. “This was a dumping ground for trash and unwanted things, and it’s taken a community effort to transform it into a place where we can come and reflect about our past and honor the families and citizens laid at rest here.”

The Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society meets on the third Thursday of every month in the Veterans Plaza of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library. The society encourages anyone interested to get involved.

The Nov. 7 cleanup was 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.