Known as the “City of the Dead for Colored People,” Mt. Auburn Cemetery was once the only place an African American in Baltimore City could be buried with dignity.

For well over a decade the cemetery sat in Cherry Hill just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the most extreme state of disarray. Now, ten years into efforts to clean and restore the cemetery, renovations are complete.

“African American history is too rich for us to let the cemetery fall into disrepair the way it has over the last several years. This is just a recommitment to the respect and dignity I think our Black history makers and ancestors deserve,” said Chairperson of the Mt. Auburn Cemetery board of directors, Jeanne Hitchcock.

“This represents many years of hard work in establishing partnerships so that the resources could put the cemetery in much better condition,” said Hitchcock, citing a $90,000 grant from The Abell Foundation as a key part in funding the renovations.”

“The board thought that Mt. Auburn Cemetery represented a significant portion of the history of African Americans in Baltimore,” said Bob C. Embry, member of the board of directors and president of the Abell Foundation. “It deserves to be highlighted and preserved.”

The cemetery is owned by the first African-American Methodist church in Baltimore City, the Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, which dates back to 1787. The cemetery was established by the church in 1868. In 1986 the ground was deemed a Historic Landmark in Baltimore City, and in 2001 the grounds earned a position on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is the final resting place of African American greats such as “mother of the civil rights movement,” Lillie Carroll Jackson, boxer Joe Gains, the 1902 Lightweight Champion of the World and John Henry Murphy Sr., founder of the Afro American newspapers.

At its worst, the grounds were overrun by weeds and bottles, plastic bags and other trash blew around the plots- which were an even bigger issue. Many families have long lost track of where their own family members are buried, due to overturned, sunken and broken grave markers. Area universities, churches, and Baltimore’s Public Safety Works Project all aided in restoring the space and with grant money, the board of directors secured daily maintenance of the grounds, provided by inmates of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will recognize the burial ground’s upgrade and will begin inside the cemetery, located at 2614 Annapolis Rd in Baltimore (21230) on May 14 at 10 am. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have confirmed attendance.

Volunteers are still needed every first and third Saturday morning to help keep Mt. Auburn Cemetery clean and safe for visitors.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer