Mt. Olive Cemetery holds tours to highlight Black history

CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLE NOW) – Mt. Olive Cemetery is holding educational tours in honor of Black History Month through the end of February.

Phyllis Smith, Mt. Olive Cemetery’s historian, told Clarksville Now the cemetery is the only one in Clarksville where all of those known to be interred are Black. Among the deceased are soldiers, entrepreneurs and slaves.

“These people built Clarksville’s wealth through their labor,” Smith said. “This is Clarksville right here.”

Smith researches the eternal occupants of Mt. Olive by combing through death certificates and cleaning up the once-abandoned cemetery. As they have removed the vinca vine and cleaned up the rubble, they have come upon more graves, and more are still being discovered.

“I followed it back all the way to 1880 where it was owned by a couple from Ohio,” Smith said about the cemetery’s previous owners.

At the entrance to Mt. Olive Cemetery, a sign lists the estimated number of residents at 1,350. “I believe we have closer to 2,000,” Smith said. “I only know the names of a little over 20 percent of the people buried here.”

“There are a lot of graves of people buried here that could not afford to mark it,” said Smith. “These graves would’ve been marked by their families with stuff that today we’d look at it and we’d think it was junk.”

Mt. Olive Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in large part to the efforts of the late Genevia Bell, who made preserving the cemetery part of her life’s work.

Before those efforts, Smith said the property had been used for years as a dumping ground, which has made the cause to differentiate what it is a grave marker and what’s garbage increasingly difficult.

You can find out more about the tours by going to Mt. Olive Cemetery’s website.

You can contact the cemetery by email to

You can contact Phyllis Smith for a tour at

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