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Historic African American cemetery earns national recognition through Civil Rights Network

Published on March 15, 2021

Glenwood Cemetery

A new federal designation could help preserve Huntsville’s Glenwood Cemetery, the City’s oldest surviving Black burial ground.

An integral part of the City’s history, Glenwood is the resting place of people who were born slaves, emancipated and lived out the remainder of their days in the separate-but-equal South.

“The civil rights movement has deep roots here in the Tennessee Valley,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “The stories being uncovered at Glenwood are crucial to how we look at the past. The lessons they teach us will be vital in how we proceed in the future.”

Slaves, community leaders and vanguards of the Reconstruction era are buried at Glenwood Cemetery, including the first Black physician, first Black women to vote, educators, political leaders and veterans. These individuals laid the foundation for a prominent, productive and more equitable community.

About the designation

In 2017, Congress passed a bill establishing the African American Civil Rights Network under the guidance of the National Park Service (NPS) that encompasses all programs related to the civil rights movement. It requires the property owner’s consent and the property must be connected to the civil rights movement and eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The network also includes facilities and programs of an educational, research or interpretive nature that are directly related to the civil rights movement.

An application to the African American Civil Rights Network (AACRN) was recently approved for the Glenwood Cemetery property.

The AACRN committee was excited to add Glenwood Cemetery to the network and post information on the historical significance of the cemetery and its role during the Reconstruction era.

“This is the kind of recognition that will help in the securing of grants for this historic site,” said Joy McKee, Huntsville’s director of Landscape Management, Cemeteries and Operation Green Team.

Ollye Conley, a retired Huntsville teacher who received presidential commendations for her classes’ work at the cemetery, is thrilled for the opportunities that come with the AACRN designation.

“Glenwood is the final resting place of former enslaved people and their first-generation descendants, amongst others,” she said. “The cemetery is a monument to the presence of African Americans in this City from its inception to present day. Many of the primary contributors to the development of this City are buried there. It is imperative that this historic place be preserved for future generations to learn of their contributions. We must continue to document and institutionalize their history and tell stories.”

Other preservation efforts

A historic resource survey and NRPH nomination was recently completed for Edmonton Heights, a historically Black neighborhood near Alabama A&M University. A state-level review will take place next month before the NPS begins its review.

For more information on the African American Civil Rights Network through the National Park Service, click here.