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Text of Document: Mr. Darden,
The Mayor requested I contact you about taking over a cemetery that is inside the City. The Mayor stated that this cemetery is called the black cemetery, but it does not have a deed. The people responsible for this cemetery would like for the City to take this over but the Mayor is unsure what needs to happen. Should we draw up an ordinance taking over the cemetery?
Shawna, this is my advice. I suspect that there is a deed for the cemetery. It is, however, quite possible that a deed may have been made out to the “black citizens of Decherd” or some similar group. I remember years ago, when I worked for the Tullahoma Industrial Board, we had a 7.6 acre cemetery in the Tullahoma Industrial Park. The city had a quit claim deed from the Federal General Services Administration. A quit claim deed just conveys whatever rights are there. On further research, Richard Lowndes, an engineer and surveyor from Estill Springs, found that the cemetery was actually 43 acres, and that the City of Tullahoma had a warranty deed for the property that was deeded in 1901 to the “colored citizens of Tullahoma.” Mr. Lowndes also discovered that there were people buried outside the 7.6 acres. The City of Tullahoma had to go to court to have restrictions removed from the 1901 deed.
You did not indicate the size of the cemetery, but when things are so loose that no one knows who has the deed, it could very well be that people may actually be buried outside (but near) the cemetery. In the event that this would occur, the city may be responsible for re-locating the graves, and this could get expensive. Situations like this result not from bad intentions, but over the years those responsible for the cemetery change and records are taken home and sometimes lost and so sometimes information is lacking.
I would not recommend that the City of Decherd accept the cemetery. It would be better for the city to agree to provide maintenance, which it is authorized to do by the general laws of the State of Tennessee, as well as Section 15 of the city charter. An appropriation may be made, as a public purpose, for maintaining cemeteries. I would not accept ownership.
Municipal Management Consultant
The University of Tennessee (MTAS)