Jackson State University’s Office of Community Engagement is the recipient of a $500,000 National Park Service award for the second phase restoration of the historic Mount Olive Cemetery. The grant is a part of the federal fiscal year 2022 Historic Preservation Fund’s HBCU grant program.
“We want to thank the National Park Service because when someone gives you this type of money, it demonstrates that they care and that the site is worthy of preservation,” said Director Heather Denne, Ph.D., Center for University-Based Development (CUBD).
In 2019, CUBD received its first $500,000 grant for the initial phase of the restoration project. The money was used to assess the cemetery and restore headstones, grave markers and mausoleums.
The funding also paid for the restoration of the James Hill and Ida Revels Redmond statues. They are the only two statues in the cemetery and were some of the first statues built for African Americans in Mississippi.
The second phase will restore 47 mausoleums, use ground penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves, and develop walkable pathways for the cemetery.
“We recently redid the assessment in 2023, and from that time, we’re unable to see about 20 to 50 gravesites from roughly 30 years ago to today because of the disinvestment and upkeep that wasn’t done,” Denne explained. “Our goal is to reverse that trend and make it a tourist destination site and a place where we can teach our students about the history of that site.”
The Mt. Olive Cemetery was established in the early 1800s and is one of the oldest private cemeteries for African Americans in the state of Mississippi. It represents four distinct eras: slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.
The cemetery depicts a point of beginning, serving as a final resting place for prominent African Americans, and ordinary citizens, and remains an intact and visible landmark for the community.
Based on the work of Jackson State University’s Center for University-Based Development, Mt. Olive Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2017, and the designation denotes the worthiness of its preservation.