The efforts to restore an abandoned African-American cemetery in the Dante community have been recognized by the Association for Gravestone Studies. The association gave Central High School’s HOSA students and Dante Church of God the Fred Oakley Award in honor of their work in the cemetery.
The association will donate a book to the school library and give the named organizations a certificate of merit.
HOSA sponsor Chris Hammond noticed the abandoned cemetery in the winter of 2017 and offered it as a project for his students. Hammond also put in plenty of sweat equity himself, along with many community and business sponsors. HOSA students raised money to repair fallen or broken gravestones and to place a marker for the cemetery’s known but unmarked graves. Dante Church of God has been supportive of the project and has committed to maintaining the cemetery once work is complete.
Hammond said HOSA students will have a workday to clear twigs and weeds from the cemetery Saturday, April 28. There is still work to be done at the site, including planting periwinkle grass as a groundcover, filling in sunken areas, and removing dead brush. The Lowes on Clinton Highway has donated supplies like a wheelbarrow, rakes and mulch, and Nature’s Best Organics has donated fill dirt.
“We just want to spread the word that things like this can be done, because there are so many abandoned cemeteries,” Hammond said. “These little cemeteries are all across East Tennessee, and a lot of them get forgotten. It’s up to individuals getting together and taking care of them. Their survival depends on local communities, and I hope that other people will see this and it might motivate them.”