Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Raja H. Swamy

Committee Members

Tamar Shirinian, Jodi Skipper


In this thesis, I examine ongoing efforts by Knoxville, Tennessee’s Black community to resist the erasure of their history and sense of place through community and volunteer efforts to reclaim and restore Good Citizens (Citizens) Cemetery. Citizens Cemetery is Knoxville’s oldest Black cemetery, interring nearly six thousand enslaved Africans and their descendants, but today is severely dilapidated due to decades of neglect. Through this project, I explore how framing volunteer opportunities as a critical service-learning program and how Black community efforts to reclaim and restore Citizens combat erasure of Knoxville’s Black community’s history and sense of place. I also explore the relationships the volunteers and community members share with one another and those they share with Citizens as a historic Black place. I examine these questions through the use of participant observation, extended interviews and life histories, archival research, and spatial analysis. I analyze these connections through the theoretical frameworks of Black geographies and critical service-learning, while also utilizing studies in erasure and power, kinship, memory, and identity. This thesis contributes to national conversations surrounding the protection and preservation of Black burying grounds by bringing much needed attention to common forms of knowledge production, particularly around identity, place, and memory.

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