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Construction is Halted in Tennessee When a "Black Cemetery" is Unearthed

For the last half century, space has become an increasingly rare commodity in this country. Commercial and residential development has sky-rocketed. Everywhere you turn, large parcels of land are being cleared out to erect the newest shopping development or residential complex. Unfortunately, contractors, land developers and zoning officials were surprised with what they found when they began excavating land for 46 single-family homes in North Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Gary Hilbert, director of Chattanooga's Land Development Office, was force to stop construction of the homes when the grave of Bellfleet Bowood, who passed in July of 1920, was unearthed. According to genealogical records, Bowood's grave once marked the edge of Beck Knob cemetery, a cemetery for "blacks" from the late 1890's to the 1940's. Records show that nearly 90 bodies were buried in the cemetery and multiple burials in the same spot. Hilton stated that developers were aware of "an old black cemetery in the woods" but that it was not accurately depicted on the maps. However, a nearby resident states that she always knew of the cemetery's location and she could "always see three headstones." It is unclear as to why zoning and building officials were unsure about the exact location of the cemetery. 

Developers must locate all of the graves and ensure that there is no further damage before construction can resume. 46-2-107 of the Tennessee Annotated Code states that no person shall willfully destroy, deface, or injure any monument, tomb, gravestone, or other structure placed in the cemetery, or any roadway, walk, fence, or enclosure in or around the same. 46-4-104 of the Code states that if a burial ground has been neglected, abandoned, or there exist any condition or activity about or near the burial ground which the court finds renders the further use of same for purposes of aforementioned inconsistent with due and proper reverence or respect for the memory of the dead then the removal and internment of the dead shall be granted.

Michael Grace


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