N.C. cemetery is a font of black history

RALEIGH — In a city dotted with historic cemeteries, Mount Hope stands out for the prominent contractor entombed in a glass-topped casket, the wooden grave marker that survives from the 19th century and the obelisk with a porcelainized newspaper obituary encased on top.

But grander qualities have elevated Mount Hope to the National Register of Historic Places, a rare honor for a graveyard. Just off Fayetteville Street south of downtown, it contains a cross-section of Raleigh's black history: Former slaves, barbers, shoemakers, professors and Raleigh's first black mayor rest under Mount Hope's rolling hills.

"Really, what Mount Hope is, is the story of the African-American folks who built the city," said Jane Thurman, chairwoman of the nonprofit Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation Inc. "From janitors to politicians."

Records for Mount Hope, which opened in 1872, show more than 7,000 people buried there, though only about 1,500 have markers. When established, the designated black corner of Raleigh's older City Cemetery was so full that "the sexton ... in digging graves in that part of the grounds unavoidably enters graves of persons who have been buried long ago," according to an 1871 news account.

Part of its appeal a century later, said Raleigh architecture historian Ruth Little, is its rarity as a city-owned graveyard exclusively for blacks. Only Raleigh and Wilmington have such a place today, she said.

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