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Volunteers clean up historically Black Knoxville cemetery after years of neglect

Rose Clark couldn't get to her mother's grave because the grass was overgrown so badly. Volunteers are making sure that doesn't happen to anyone else.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Rose Clark came to Crestview Cemetery to put flowers on her mom's grave for Mother's Day, she couldn't get there.

"The grass was so high I couldn't get to my mom's grave," she said.

Clark had to pay someone to cut down the grass that had grown several feet tall around the grave.

"My mom is in a historic place and resting in the paradise of God and I appreciate that and love that," she said. "But I was upset when I came in. I couldn't get to her grave."

This cemetery, which is one of three lots that make up the largest historically Black cemetery in Knoxville, had been left unattended for years.

Until Tuesday, when volunteers showed up with lawnmowers.

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"I was shocked with just how tall it was because I'm a pretty tall guy," said Denzel Grant.

He saw Clark's plea on Facebook for someone to help clear the land at the cemetery, so Grant got together a team to finally cut the grass.

"Cemeteries can be a remembrance," he said. "It is how we keep our loved ones alive, and so that's why I felt like it was no question that this needs to be done."

About a dozen people mowed on Tuesday and will continue to mow all week long. More people brought water, drinks, and food for those working.

Grant said while Knox County inmates used to do the lawncare there, the sheriff's office said that stopped with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Knoxville said it doesn't maintain private property, but no one's really sure who owns this cemetery anymore.

"Somebody's paying taxes," said Clark. "And I will not stop until I find out who owns the property and who's paying taxes and hold them responsible for keeping this clean."

Until then, Grant and other community members will keep mowing the cemetery because there's still a lot of work to be done.

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"It's been used as a homeless camp and a dumping ground," he said. "So you have old refrigerators, broken washers and dryers, furniture, and it's really a sad sight because they're sitting on people's gravesites."

By the weekend, all the headstones are expected to see the sun again.

"I really appreciate it because they don't have to do it," said Clark. "But they do and I appreciate it."

While the grass may not be greener on the other side, at least it's shorter.

If you want to help mow the cemetery, which is on Keith Avenue in West Knoxville, you're welcome to bring your supplies any time this week.

Volunteers will be holding a balloon release Sunday at 5 p.m. for families who have missed celebrating holidays and birthdays with loved ones due to the unkempt grass.