Beck Knob Cemetery has been nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places for 2021, for “its locally significant association with African American history in Chattanooga.”
The cemetery has belonged to Hurst United Methodist Church, 829 Dallas Rd., since 1888.
The one-acre cemetery, 875 Dartmouth St., is located on the south side of a steep hill in North Chattanooga. Believed by historians to be the oldest known burial ground for African Americans in Chattanooga, it sits on land given to the African American community by local Union supporter Joshua Beck after the Civil War.
Jeanette Mosley, the great-granddaughter of enslaved individuals interred in the cemetery and longtime caretaker, wrote in nomination documents: “The Hon. Mr. Joshua Beck, a prominent, wealthy, white citizen of Hill City Tennessee, seeing the need for a burying ground for the slave people and their families, gave this land to the entire black community.”
There are at least 188 documented burials at Beck Knob. Oral tradition states that the burials began around 1865, although the first interments documented in written records did not occur until 1884. The last burial occurred in 1952.
Over the years, Beck Knob has been the target of desecration and vandalism. In addition, its physical condition has deteriorated, with many graves at times covered by weeds, kudzu, underbrush and tall grass.
A local Eagle Scout worked to clear the cemetery and map and photograph the stones in 2009.
In 2018, Beck Knob, along with two other historic African American cemeteries–Hardwick and Pleasant Garden–became beneficiaries of the city of Chattanooga’s new African American Cemetery Preservation Fund, designed to aid volunteers in maintenance and preservation.
By clearing debris and restoring headstones, volunteers hope Beck Knob becomes a historic site for the state.
“Though descendants and other African American community members have long understood the importance of this acre of land, recognition through the National Register of Historic Places program will increase awareness of this place and the individuals buried there,” nomination documents note.
Beck Knob’s nomination went before the State Review Board on Wednesday. Those nominations that are found to meet the criteria will be sent for final approval to the National Register of Historic Places in the Department of the Interior.