This the beautiful gate and one-lane bridge that welcomes visitors into the cemetery. Its Gothic style architecture helps to define the grandeur of the cemetery awaiting you. The Divide After Death
Elmwood Cemetery is one of the oldest non-profits in Tennessee. In 1852, five men each contributed approximately five-hundred dollars each to buy 40 acres of land to start a cemetery. Later it was upgraded to 80 acres following the Civil War. Due to its age, the cemetery is home to a lot of history. It has existed through slavery, war, and many cultural changes in its Memphis setting. As the world around Elmwood has changed, we still see remnants of good and bad history in Memphis. By this I mean that class and race are still prevalent when you look around the beautiful landscapes. Although Elmwood doesn’t specifically classify their cemetery as being “segregated”, we can see otherwise. Here are some pictures I took to portray a intersecting ideas of racism and classism after death.
The beautiful architecture for this vault is what makes the Wessendorf family vault stand out in Elmwood. Many websites commend the builder of the vault but they don’t have any background on the actual family. We are left to assume that they come from money because lower class families could barely afford plots, let alone whole vaults. This is the vault of Robert Reed Church’s family. Church (1839–1912) was the first African American millionaire in the South. He started the first black owned bank in Memphis which gave credit to African Americans so they could buy homes and businesses- something unseen during the Civil War. This is the inscription on Church’s vault which tell the successes of his life and how he will continue to be “head of the party in Tennessee” even after death. This is an example of what separates the classes even after death. Even someone influential in the community who came from a poor family would not be able to get an inscription like this to tell about their successes. This is the grave site of another influential African American man on the Memphis community. His name was George Washington Lee (1894–1976) but was referred to as Lieutenant Lee of Beale Street. After facing oppression his entire life, Lee took it upon himself to maintain as much African American culture he could in a southern city like Memphis. This is the memorial dedicated to the Confederate soldiers buried in Elmwood. People seem to forget that the Confederate soldiers were the ones fighting to maintain slavery and continue to oppress African American citizens. This is the monument that Elmwood houses to remember the Confederate soldiers. Not only do they have the plaque which goes into great detail about the soldiers buried, they also got this towering monument. I understand their reasoning to commend these men who fought for their beliefs, but how do they remember all of the African American slaves who died without any family? This plaque is the only thing in Elmwood that addresses the slaves of Memphis who were buried in unmarked graves because they were seen as merely property rather than human beings. This community of African Americans continued to be oppressed after death by not being given proper burials to commend them for their years of pain and suffering. This is just a close up of the inscription on the slave monument. I wanted to make sure you could read it in order to compare it to the plaque dedicated to the Confederate soldiers. Although this doesn’t have anything to do with racism, it does have to do with classism. The people buried in these unmarked graves were mainly from impoverish families of Memphis because that is where the yellow fever epidemic was mainly concentrated. They ended up having to do mass burials to keep up with the number of deaths.