Uncovering History: Tennesseans working to reunite formerly enslaved persons who were buried apart

Local News

ANDERSON CO., Tenn. (WATE)– Several Tennesseeans are working to reunite a former enslaved person and his wife that were buried apart.

The historian who uncovered the story of Elizabeth and Hade Black is trying to right the wrongs of the past.

It’s a story that could have been forgotten in history and literally lost in the woods of Anderson County if it wasn’t for a ten-year-old boy named Leo York.

“This cemetery, when they moved it in 1962, I was 10 years old and a ten-year-old that’s out wondering around is always curious about what’s going on,” said York as he walked the trail to the Black Cemetery.

The Black Family Cemetery is a piece of hidden history in Anderson County.

“This is Lieutenant Joseph Black and his wife Catherine,” York pointed at the grave sites.

Their bodies were moved after the TVA bought the land close by in the early 1960s to build its Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton.

“In 2012, I tried to come back down here to see the old cemetery,” explained York, “but this was so grown up down through here the trail was that you couldn’t get through.”

With some help, Leo York made it his mission to clear the path and learn the stories of 75 unidentified enslaved persons and more than a half-dozen Anderson County Veterans.

“The one name that was on that record that didn’t make sense and didn’t fit in was Hade Black,” said York.

Hade Black was born into slavery, as was his wife Elizabeth.

“In 1921 after Hade died, Elizabeth left and she went to Gadsden Town, which is a settlement on Raccoon Valley Road across from Clinton highway that was a settlement for free slaves,” York mentioned.

Hade was buried at the Black Cemetery but York couldn’t find Elizabeth’s grave.

“This was the last record that I found of Hade and Elizabeth and this was the record that really brought me to tears. This is the death certificate of Lizzie Black. She was 65 years old. She died at Knoxville General Hospital. She had cancer of the gallbladder. They had no idea who her parents were or her birth date.”

Elizabeth died February 18, 1926.

Her death still brings York to tears.

“From there she was taken to the Potter Cemetery in Knoxville and buried there.” York said.

Now, York wants to bring Hade and Elizabeth back together.

“It would bring closer, I think, to Hade and to Elizabeth, and definitely to me if her remains could be located and she could be reunited with Hade at his burial site,” York said.

History York wants to be corrected and it’s history he doesn’t want people to forget.

“There’s room here,” York said pointing to the spot next to Hade.

The Anderson County Board of Commission has played an important part in helping to preserve the land.

“It’s important right now more than ever,” said Tracy Wandell, Anderson County Commissioner for District 1.

The commission has gotten the approval to move Elizabeth’s body, once found, out of the abandoned Knox County Potter Field Cemetery and lay her to rest next to her husband.

“Obviously was not a positive thing, but you learn from it, you grow and you become a better people, county, state, nation, and all those kinds of good things,” explained Wandell.

Web Extra: Anderson County Commissioner, Tracy Wandell shares his story on the race divide

Wandell also grew up near the Black Cemetery and heard the stories of who may have been buried there, but it was the work of York that made Wandell want to help reunite the couple.

“For me, one way you right the wrongs are you recognize the wrong first. You can’t fix anything unless you identify that there is in fact a problem and obviously there was a problem.”

Wandell added, “TVA’s been a good Stewart. Of course, they did this in 1962- moving this over to where it’s located now.”

Even though the TVA does not own the land where the cemetery is located, they said in a statement:

TVA has a strong record of working with the public and groups to preserve cultural and historical resources across the Tennessee Valley, including preservation efforts for older cemeteries.

We appreciate and share Mr. York’s interest and passion for this project.

TVA property records show that we do not own the land where the cemetery is located, nor maintain the cable gate.

We are open to continuing discussions with Mr. York and the county on the project.

Scott Brooks – TVA Spokesperson

“For me, we’re all one people, we’re all human beings and that’s the way I see it,” said Wandell. “It’s important that we teach the history to our youth so we know how to proceed in the future.”

Leo York said, “It’s always amazing the history around us that we don’t know is there.”

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