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Odd Fellows Cemetery

To commemorate Emancipation Day and honor the slavery-era men and women buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery, UT’s College of Architecture and Design and the Knoxville ReAnimation Coalition will co-host an Illumination Tribute at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 12, in the cemetery.

On August 9 and 10 nearly 180 architecture students and university freshmen participating in UT’s Center for Leadership and Service Ignite Serves program will build and fortify the walkways throughout the cemetery. This is the fourth year that Ignite Serves will volunteer, and so far they’ve helped construct 1,300 linear feet of walkway.

Odd Fellows Cemetery, 2001 Bethel Avenue, is one of Knoxville’s first dedicated African-American burial grounds. It was founded around 1880 and contains more than six thousand graves.

The tribute will include lighting candles, a Negro spiritual, a reading of the names, and a short narrative about the history of the cemetery. More than 250 candles will light the sites of the grave markers.

Katherine Ambroziak
Katherine Ambroziak

“This event gives us an opportunity to give back to this community that has taught us so much about pride and grace,” said Katherine Ambroziak, associate professor in the School of Architecture. “While there is little definitive information on those in the cemetery who were enslaved—some were slaves and some were not—we recognize all our ancestors were affected by this tragic institution. With the promise of emancipation, we are proud to celebrate the fact that all those interred in Odd Fellows Cemetery died as free men and women.”

Since 2009, UT, KRC, and the City of Knoxville have collaborated with community and student volunteers to bring about change in Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Led by KRC founder Stephen Scruggs and UT’s Ambroziak, the reclamation project is a community-oriented outreach initiative that seeks to restore community memory and pride by engaging participants in a process of restoration and design of a memorial landscape.

Over the past seven years, faculty from the college have worked with more than 1,500 community and student volunteers on various projects in the cemetery. Volunteers from Project GRAD, Chi Sigma Iota, and Liberty Church have helped to map the 250 stones to which the illumination event pays tribute.

The Illumination Tribute is part of the second annual Eighth of August Jubilee, a week-long celebration of Emancipation in Knoxville coordinated by Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The jubilee starts August 7 with a libation ceremony—a symbolic pouring of liquid done in the spirit of remembrance—at the Freedmen’s Mission Historic Cemetery, adjacent to Knoxville College, and concludes August 13 with Jubilee in the Park at Chilhowee Park Marble Pavilion.

The Knoxville ReAnimation Coalition is a grassroots not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate and create a greater sense of self-worth among Knoxville’s African-American community through projects that illuminate and valorize its history and past achievements. It strives to strengthen social structures and restore community identity.

To volunteer at the tribute, e-mail Katherine Ambroziak at or call 865-456-1435.

In the event of bad weather, contact Ambroziak for information about when the event will be rescheduled.


Amanda F. Johnson (865-974-6401,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,