Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories

Stones River National Battlefield
Murfreesboro, TN

In February 2016, Stones River National Battlefield (SRNB) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, debuted two public programs to celebrate Black History Month. On February 6, the park offered two guided bus tours of the historic Cemetery community, a post-emancipation African-American community. Along with this event, the park introduced a companion smartphone tour and interpretive brochure that is now available to park visitors on a regular basis. On February 20, the park served as the venue for an all-day event celebrating local African-American history and culture. “Hallowed Grounds” included choral music, dramatic presentations, oral history, an art exhibit, and demonstrations by the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry re-enactors.

Both public programs were designed to achieve two complementary goals. One goal was to expand the interpretation of African-American history at the park in consonance with the overarching NPS goal of connecting the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction to the history of civil rights. The other goal was to continue to work on diversifying the park’s audience by involving the African American community in public programming. The Cemetery Community bus tour, smartphone tour, and brochure speak more directly to the interpretation goal, while “Hallowed Grounds” speaks more directly to the audience-building goal. Critical to the success of both programs was the leadership of the Friends of Stones River National Battlefield and the collaboration of two other key groups: the African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County  and the History Department of Middle Tennessee State University.

The outcome of this work has been to bring a greater awareness of the role of the African-American community in the development of the National Cemetery, an appreciation for the unique community that grew there, the beginning of the healing needed for Cemetery community descendants to acknowledge their role in these efforts, and to bring these stories to Battlefield visitors and the wider Murfreesboro area. The creation of the National Battlefield Park displaced and nearly destroyed the Cemetery community, and its unique history as a freedmen’s community was fragmented in public records, archives, and individual memories. This programming represents a promising and collaborative first step towards reintroducing the story of the Cemetery community and its impact on the battlefield landscape at Stones River.