Alan Brown, right, and Andrea Becksvoort clearn brush during a cleanup of the North Shore's historic Beck Knob Cemetery on Saturday, July 28, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Volunteers worked through the morning to clear growth from the century-old cemetery for African Americans, which was established by landowner Joshua Beck in the late 1800s and was active into the 1940s. The cemetery was rediscovered in 2015 by contractors constructing homes on Dartmouth Street for developer Green Tech Homes.
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Preserving black cemeteries

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Three historic black cemeteries in Chattanooga are the beneficiaries of a new fund set up to protect and maintain the graves and grounds.

Mayor Andy Berke said Friday the African American Cemetery Preservation Fund will supplement the dedicated volunteers who keep up the Pleasant Garden, Beck Knob and Hardwick cemeteries.

"These places are sacred, and we haven't treated them as sacred" in recent years, the mayor said at City Hall. "We need to have professional people take care of these places."

James McKissic, director of Multicultural Affairs for the city, said the idea for the fund arose as the city has worked over the last several years with volunteers who are "passionate" about respecting and preserving those historic sites.

The fund will start with $8,500 given by the Benwood Foundation and the Sankofa Fund for Civic Engagement, according to the city. Individuals, businesses and charitable groups are invited to donate through the Community Foundation,

Robin Posey, with the Community Foundation, said the organization is "honored to be able to partner and provide the vehicle for members of the community to support preservation of these important historical places."

Pleasant Garden, in the Shepherd community, is the resting place of several community leaders, as well as 1906 lynching victim Ed Johnson and two of the "Scottsboro Boys" falsely accused of raping white women in 1931.

It's been a special project for LaFrederick Thirkill "since my hair wasn't gray," the Orchard Knob Middle School principal joked Friday.

Thirkill earlier told the Times Free Press he learned of the cemetery after reading about the book "Contempt of Court," written by local attorney Leroy Phillips Jr. and former Chattanooga Times reporter Mark Curriden. The book recounted the unjust treatment of Johnson, who was hanged from the Walnut Street Bridge after a false rape accusation.

Thirkill founded the Friends of Pleasant Garden to restore the graves and maintain the grounds.

"I just think it's very good that there is some funds available for the caretakers to secure materials and resources they need to continue to maintain the cemetery," he said.

The Hardwick Cemetery is in Brainerd, Thirkill said. The website said it was established around 1900 on land owned by C.H. Hardwick and contains 15o unmarked graves of black residents.

Beck Knob, a century-old cemetery on Dartmouth Street in North Chattanooga, was lost to memory until contractors uncovered it while clearing the area for a housing development.

Hurst United Methodist Church owns the site, and caretakers Gary James and Sherryl Appleberry were at City Hall on Friday for the mayor's announcement.

"We're excited about it, and looking forward to getting it restored and getting it on the National Historic Register," James said. The church has been working with the developer, GreenTech, on restoring the graveyard and the foundation money "will definitely help," he added.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.