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Restoration efforts underway at the oldest Black cemetery in Knoxville, Eastport Cemetery

More than 6,000 people are buried inside of the 4 acre cemetery off of Fuller Avenue in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Volunteers are uncovering a history that has been silenced for over 60 years. 

Knoxville's oldest Black cemetery is the resting home for an estimated 6,000 people. Historians hope the stories of their lives will soon come to light.

The historic cemetery is off of Fuller Avenue. However, if you were to drive by, you may not be able to tell its historical significance. Many of the gravestones have been engulfed by dirt and grim over time. Additionally, the site is not marked as a historic location. 

"This is a historic cemetery, the oldest African American cemetery in Knoxville. It was established in 1840, the internment of slaves and freedmen," said George Kemp.

He has been pioneering the concept of recovering this cemetery for several years. 10News talked with Kemp in 2018, when he expressed his wish for the cemetery to be restored.

This is what the area looked like in 2018:

Now, in 2021, that effort to restore the cemetery is well-underway.

"This is a part of history that is being left out to a great extent because the general public does not know about Citizens Cemetery," Kemp said.

The 4-acre cemetery is referred to as both Good Citizen's Cemetery and Eastport Cemetery. However, the origin of the name is not known to historians.

Historians are working with the Anthropology and History departments at the University of Tennessee to uncover more information about the people buried in Eastport.

"They use newspaper clippings and obituaries, which has connected a lot of dots for us," Kemp said.

However, in order to research, they need more parts of the cemetery to be recovered, gravestones identified, and names found.

Earthadelic announced their partnership with The Knoxville Re-Animation Coalition, and the cemetery recovery project started earlier this year.

"We came out here and we were instantly enamored with it ... both with what we felt we could do and also how horrified we were that something like this could exist, and we didn't know about it. No one knew about it," said Josh Formont with Earthadelic.

Everyone is working together for one purpose.

"The ultimate goal is for us to establish this cemetery as a historical landmark," Kemp said.

"We want more than just the historic landmark sign. We want people to actually come and do their history projects here and this be a part of Knoxville and East Tennessee history," said Formont.

He said Earthadelic is in the project for the long haul. Kemp said the same.

The group hopes to have a portion of the cemetery cleared by the end of the year and to have grass growing in the spring.

Credit: WBIR

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