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Groups want to clean up historic African American cemetery


A historic African American cemetery in Murfreesboro has fallen in such a horrible state, with overgrown weeds and brush, it's hard to tell what lies beneath.

The owners can't afford the upkeep, but that could soon change.

For years, Benevolent Cemetery off Church Street in Murfreesboro has been neglected. Some headstones have been toppled, while others have disappeared from sight.

"It's bad. It's really bad," said Murfreesboro resident Henry Summers. "The weeds are taller than this building. You can't see the headstones of the people out there," Summers said.

Summers' grandmother, Bessie Puckett, is buried at Benevolent Cemetery. He said he hopes something is done to preserve the burial ground which dates back to the 1800s.

"It's in really bad condition," he said. "I would love to see it be taken care of, because they were loyal citizens in Murfreesboro for a long time."

Several homeless people have set up a camp at the site and could possibly be sleeping right on top of unmarked graves.

"That is desecration," said historian Dr. George Smith. "We know there are over 350 grave sites out there, and some of those grave sites are being desecrated by people living over them or setting up tents over them."

Part of the cemetery is also filled with trash, beer cans, liquor bottles and other debris.

The cemetery is owned by Allen Chapel AME Church, and church leaders said finances have been the main reason the cemetery hasn't been properly maintained.

The church is under new leadership, and the Rev. Jimmie Plummer said the cemetery is now a top priority.

The church and other community members are in the process of forming the African American Historical Society of Rutherford County.

The plan is to clean up the cemetery and help preserve it, as well as other African American historical sites.

"We're hoping we can sensitize the community in getting some efforts underway," Smith said. "A lot of people have expressed interest in going back and reclaiming this, because a lot of our history is there."

Summers said he's willing to help with the clean up so his grandmother and others there can rest in peace. Last week, city building and codes officials issued a notice to Allen Chapel Church to cut the grass and bring the cemetery into compliance.

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