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Greenwood Cemetery
Also known as: Negro Cemetery
Tallahassee
Leon County
Florida  USA

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Cemetery notes and/or description:
Greenwood Cemetery, Tallahassee

Established by a private cemetery company in 1937, Greenwood Cemetery was very important to Tallahassee's African American community for several decades. After the original members of the cemetery company passed away, there was little maintenance of the sit. In 1985 a large group of volunteers cleaned up the cemetery and met certain conditions so that the City's public works department could take over management of the site. The John G. Riley House and Center for African American History, a local museum group, sponsored the work required for the cemetery to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and developed commemorative booklets and self-guided tour brochures.

In 1829 the Florida Territorial Council established an official burying ground near what was then the western boundary of Tallahassee. The cemetery was purchased in 1841 by the City of Tallahassee, which established an ordinance regulating burials at the site. It was determined that "all Negroes and persons of color" would be buried in an area "designated by a partition fence." The eastern half of the cemetery was used for burials of persons of African descent until 1936, when the city decided to close the Negro section of the old cemetery and to curtail the sale of grave lots in the "colored section of [nearby] Oakland Cemetery." Although the city tried to establish a new cemetery for African Americans, the community objected to the location.

In March 1937 members of Tallahassee's black community founded the Greenwood Cemetery Company "to acquire land so as to provide a burial place for the dead of the colored race near Tallahassee in Leon County." The company purchased ten acres of land on Old Bainbridge Road and burials began soon after the cemetery was established. In 1942 a plat of the site was approved, with the streets, driveways and paths dedicated as public rights-of-way. Over the years the cemetery property was increased to 16 acres. Greenwood Cemetery exhibits a rich diversity of gravemarkers and burial traditions that reflect the social structure of Tallahassee's African American community.
When the cemetery company sold burial spaces it was with the understanding that families and friends of the deceased would maintain the plots. However, over the years descendants moved away, ceased to care for the grave sites, or themselves passed on. Although burials continued, Greenwood began to look neglected and abandoned. Some individual plots were cared for, but much of the sixteen acres was not maintained. Vegetation was uncontrolled, with tall grasses and shrubs hiding graves from view. Many of the graves subsided, leaving gaping holes in the ground; wood markers rotted away and other markers were slowly covered by debris and earth. After all of the founders of the cemetery company passed away, the only continuity provided for the facility was the daughter of one of the founders. She continued to sell lots and manage her father's undertaking business.

In 1985 a group of citizens met to express their concern about the deterioration of the cemetery. This resulted in formation of the Greenwood Foundation, whose purpose was to restore the cemetery to a safe and respectable condition. One of the first actions the organization took was to raise funds to hire a lawn company to mow and trim the cemetery. In 1986 it was determined that Greenwood was the only private cemetery in Tallahassee that had streets deeded to the public. The City Commission voted to "accept responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the streets and drainage facilities," and requested that Greenwood Foundation provide perpetual care for the site. It was later agreed that the City would take over operation of the cemetery after the Greenwood Foundation and community volunteers cleaned and landscaped the site, brought its physical condition to the level required by the Public Works Department, and raised funds to clear a densely wooded area in the cemetery.

In May 1987 approximately 200 volunteers responded to a request for help in cleaning the cemetery. Several other cleanup days were held during the summer months. During this same time a history of the cemetery was researched and written and, under the guidance of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, volunteers conducted a survey of gravemarkers. By the end of September the entire cemetery was well maintained and ready for acquisition by the City. A rededication of Greenwood Cemetery was held on October 10, 1987. Since then, the John G. Riley House Museum and Center for African American History organized an anniversary celebration of the Cemetery's revitalization in 1997, and Greenwood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. A commemorative booklet and self-guided tour brochure were produced for the occasion.
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Greenwood Cemetery
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