By LaToya Hentz-Moore
Recently, the National Park Service (NPS) awarded Jackson State a grant for the amount of $496,023 to preserve the historic Mt. Olive Cemetery. A total of $7.7 million in grants was awarded to 18 Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the preservation of historic structures on each campus. Since the 1990s, NPS has awarded more than $60 million in grants to over 80 HBCUs.
More than three years ago, Dr. Heather Wilcox, director for Community Engagement at the Center for University-Based Development, began the process of securing this grant for the historic Mt. Olive cemetery that is located on the back of Jackson State’s campus.
Heather Wilcox says she was “just screaming and jumping up and down” when she learned the project had been funded on a national level.
“I wrote the grant because this historic site needed some tender loving care,” says Wilcox. “This grant will allow JSU to preserve the site and make it a more welcoming place to come learn about its historical significance.”
The funding will be used to repair all of the headstones and mausoleums. It will also assist with recreating the pathways and original landscaping in the cemetery. The funding for the grant will last for three years and will cover the completion for the preservation work.
Mt. Olive cemetery has served as the final resting place for African-Americans for more than 200 years. The legacy of Mt. Olive includes those burial sites of Jim Hill and Ida Revels-Redmond and others that deserve our devoted attention.
After getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, Wilcox says, “The project gained community and state support and won several awards.”
She continued, “Sometimes when you get great ideas, you want others to believe in that idea as well. I knew when the National Park Service granted JSU almost half a million dollars that my vision had been validated.”
Mt. Olive cemetery serves as a monument for the African-American community. It entails a vast amount of pride and authentic stories of growth for the individuals and their families. It also adds to the collective history of the state of Mississippi.
“Our investment of time and money should reflect the triumph stories of those buried in the cemetery and Mt. Olive will serve as an educational tool for our students and community.”