MOUNT ARARAT AND GREENWOOD CEMETERIES (1869- )
Mount Ararat Cemetery (1869- ) and Greenwood Cemetery (1889-
) are the oldest organized burial sites in black Nashville.
Since 1822 about 4,000 blacks (slaves and free persons) were buried in the Nashville City Cemetery on Fourth Avenue, South. Other slaves were interred in white family and church cemeteries. After the federal government established the National Cemetery in Nashville in 1866, some 1,909 former black soldiers from Union army regiments were buried there, with tombstones imprinted USCT.
After the Emancipation of 65, local whites no longer wanted black bodies in private white cemeteries. Additionally, because they continued to have a high mortality rate caused by cholera, pneumonia, intestinal diseases, poverty, poor housing, malnutrition, alcohol consumption, and other aliments, the freed blacks needed their own undertakers and cemeteries. In 1884, the death rate was 16.7 for local whites and 26.9 per 1,000 persons for black Nashvillians. Infant deaths comprised 46.5 percent of the total black deaths for 1887 and 40 percent for 1910 -- rates that mirrored Nashville's black infant mortality rates for the 1850s.
In April of 1869, Mount Ararat Cemetery was founded by local black leaders. They employed black businessman and Republican Nelson Walker, who began buying lands from white Republican leader John Trimble and other whites in the area presently known as Cameron-Trimble Bottom locale. In 1869, Walker purchased property from James M. Murrell for the trustees of the Nashville Order of the Sons of Relief Number One and the Nashville Colored Benevolent Society. The land belonged to the H. B. Lewis estate, lying 1,000 feet north of Murfreesboro Pike, where it junctions with Elm Hill (Stones River) Pike. On May 2, 1869, the Mount Ararat Cemetery lots went on sale. To involve the churches and preachers, a mass meeting was held on Sunday and a black leader said, "We must have education, valuable property, and plenty of money; and, we should labor to secure colored teachers in the colored schools of the city." Thomas Griswold, businessman and black city councilman, became secretary of Mount Ararat Cemetery. Because of periodic epidemics, some 1,400 burials per year frequently took place at Mount Ararat. The freedmen needed undertakers as badly as they needed cemeteries. Between 1865 and 1888, one major black undertaker, Thomas Winston, operated in Nashville. His crude shops were moved frequently from No. 5 and No. 3 Front, 47 Cedar Street, McLemore and Velvet, 119 McLemore, and then to 161 Cedar Street. In 1886, Preston Taylor arrived as pastor of the Gay Street Colored Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He boarded at 119 McLemore and later at 249 Gay Street. When Winston died in 1888, Taylor filled the void by opening Taylor and Company Undertakers at 316 1/2 North Cherry Street. He purchased thirty-seven acres of land one mile east of Mount Ararat on Elm Hill Pike and opened Greenwood Cemetery by 1888. Two years later, Taylor was in competition with Woodard and Company Undertakers, and then the W. Goff Colored Undertakers in 1891. By 1892, however, Taylor was black Nashville's major undertaker. After Taylor's death and will probation in 1931, the United Christian Missionary Society of the National Christian (Disciples of Christ) Missionary Convention acquired Greenwood Cemetery.
After 1910, the Mount Ararat Cemetery deteriorated until it was revived in the 1920s. By the 1970s, however, much of Mt. Ararat again was overgrown with trees and brush and insensitive white businessmen had begun to encroach on the site. In 1982, the Greenwood Cemetery's board of directors was asked to take Mount Ararat under management. The board accepted the property from the Mount Ararat Association and Mount Ararat Cemetery, Inc., and the new management (under Robert Mosley, Jr.) cleared brush and trees and restored the neglected sections of Mount Ararat. In 1983, the Garden of Saint James was developed. A landscaping project provided more burial space, and a 112-crypt mausoleum was built on Mount Ararat property. On June 21, 1986, the Greenwood Cemetery's board of directors voted to change the name Mount Ararat to Greenwood Cemetery West. In 1988, Greenwood Cemetery was honored by mayoral proclamations recognizing its 100th anniversary and commending its contributions to Nashville's history and culture. By 1992, the management had professional color brochures, a new administration building, and various services for Greenwood Cemetery's customers.
Bobby L. Lovett