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Black History Month: Historians continue restoration of Knoxville's oldest Black cemeteries

The revitalization of the Citizen Cemetery has been in the works for over a year.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For years the historic Eastport Cemetery, also known as the Citizen Cemetery, in East Knoxville has been hidden behind trees, grass and debris.

Knoxville's oldest Black cemetery is the resting home for an estimated 6,000 people. The nearly 6-acre cemetery sits off of Fuller Avenue in Knoxville.

Over Black History Month, historians are recognizing the oldest Black cemetery in Knoxville. Historians hope the lives of the people there will soon come to light.

The revitalization of the Citizen Cemetery has been in the works for almost a year.

"It was established around the 1840s for the internment of slaves and freedmen," said George Kemp, who works with the Citizens Cemetery group.

According to Kemp, the cemetery holds some of Knoxville's most influential leaders in the Black community.

"Even if they're not historical people, the fact that they are buried in this cemetery, they deserve a decent burial site," Kemp said.

Beck Cultural Exchange Center's President Renee Kesler said it is important to recognize the cemetery not only this month but every month.

"We are talking about one of the oldest, if not the oldest, cemetery many of our enslaved ancestors have been in," Kesler said.

Committed to preserving Black history and culture, Resler said it's time to unsilence the silenced and show how Black Americans buried in the cemetery helped shape history, and reveal how they were shaped by it.

"When you go in there and you read the history and the tombstones of some of those people, we can literally piece together history all over again, [learning] about what this community was like from its very beginnings," Kesler said.

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