In May 2020, Westport CEDC received a Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative (BRNI) Grant for stewardship in partnership with Mount Auburn Cemetery's owners, Sharp Street UMC. Primarily, the CEDC's MOU with Sharp Street will allow the CEDC to assist the Church in grant management for site improvements and to better communicate the heritage and history of the historic burial ground, as outlined in recent community planning proposals. The BRNI funds will be used specifically to implement short-term capital infrastructure projects. The MOU is now complete and a project management plan being developed.
As Sharp Street UMC permits, prospective projects could include long-term infrastructure improvements, hyper-local shepherding of volunteers to aide in groundskeepers' regular maintenance of the grounds, seasonal heritage tourism tours, and future partnerships with area educators working in African-American studies. To learn how you can support planning these efforts,and to learn more about the cemetery, please read the following compilation, updated June 2020:
Our own environmental sanctuary
“The weeds and tilted monuments of the grounds of Mount Auburn convey an underlying beauty; a spirit of poetry, imagination, and discovery. Views to the harbor, the hills and contours of the land, and the winding paths, which create mystery and relief, give additional meaning to a city landscape often too simplistic to comprehend.” -Diane Jones
Established in 1871 at its current site as Sharp Street Cemetery, and renamed in 1894, Mount Auburn Cemetery has for over a century served Baltimore's African-American residents as a tranquil, pastoral burial grounds. In addition, the grounds have served for intimate family reunions, anniversaries, memorial celebrations, worship tours, and regular family visits. Once a source of pride for Baltimore’s Black community; off-and-on throughout the years, Sharp Street UMC has proudly raised funds to keep the grounds’ ownership in local, Black hands --a distinguished feat! However, at over a century a half in age, the cemetery continues to show its age.
In 2020, in partnership with Westport CEDC, the grounds are included as an action item in the forthcoming Harbor West Master Plan, to begin a transformation towards a proper Memorial Park via a long-term communal ecological and restoration plan. Doing so will allow cemetery leadership to align regular maintenance and on-site security needs with the CEDC's capacity to fundraise for community-supported engagement. This adjustment will reposition specific areas within the landscape to a proper conservation preserve, thus recognizing the historic resonance of the grounds with modern ecological restoration strategies.
Imagine where rather than simply having seasonal lawn cuttings, the grounds can, in areas where visitors are sparse and where archiving has taken place, become home to a biodiverse group of native perennials, wildflowers, tree sapplings, and other wild bush.
Imagine Saturday morning nature walks, birding tours, and weaving the cemetery’s gravel and earthen streets into the wider trails network of the Gwynns Falls and Middle Branch’s trails.
Imagine an online resource to map a grave or file a locate-request, to learn the stories of Black Baltimoreans, and to schedule regular class field trips where tour groups can reflect the history of both those interred at the cemetery. Together, these online resources can better curate visitors' experience to honor those whose lives shaped today's Harbor West neighborhoods (Westport, Lakeland, Mount Winans, and Saint Paul) as well as neighboring Cherry Hill and all of Baltimore.
Why this project
"In...my research, [unclaimed lots'] lack of care came to serve not as a sign of direct neglect and abuse by property owners but more so of a sign of forgottenness and unknown property ownership” -Dr. Kami Fletcher
How you can get involved
We invite you to learn more about this project by
Join us on a seasonal nature walk or shuttle tour from the Middle Branch Park to the cemetery.
Add your name to support the following ideas:
Contribute to the cemetery’s gravestone map and library
- Share your relative’s story on a digital museum blog series
Attend a film screening of an independent documentary on the cemetery, “Sacred Ground”
Attend a community meeting of the Westport Neighborhood Association at the Boys & Girls Club across from the cemetery on the other side of Florence Cumming Park (beside Westport Public Housing)
Give feedback on planned site renovations, gravestone restorations, trail signage, and pathways,
Contribute to the CEDC's cemetery restoration endowment, and
Attend Sunday service at Sharp Street UMC on Saratoga St in Upton's Marble Hill neighborhood.
For now, this project is in the beginning planning stages and will be further developed in the forthcoming Harbor West Master Plan. We welcome your input and recommendations.
A cemetery preliminary action plan was proposed in Fall 2019 by a graduate student at Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning, who later joined Westport CEDC as a community fellow, Mr. Justin Fair. His proposal, "Mapping the City of the Dead," sought to continue the cemetery's mapping component and to incorporate a Fall 2018 semester-long class studio project that resulted in its own proposal for a "Cultural and Ecological Restoration Plan". You can browse that proposal and all of his later research on his project website including a list of cemetery websites and a press list with bibliography.
Credits and Thanks to:
Compilation text and photos assembled by Justin Fair, MCRP 2020 with Morgan State University. Project "Mapping the City of the Dead." Project website at https://www.soulstrong.com/project/gis-cemetery-baltimore/ with additional photos shared on http://soulstrong.com/?p=114756
Diane Jones. “The City of the Dead: The Place of Cultural Identity and Environmental Sustainability in the African-American Cemetery.” Landscape Journal (30-2:9). Accessed September 17 2018 from http://lj.uwpress.org/content/30/2/226.refs.
Kami Fletcher. "The City of the Dead for Colored People: Baltimore's Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1807–2012." Order No. 3587770, Morgan State University, 2013. https://search-proquest-com.proxy-ms.researchport.umd.edu/docview/1427854270?accountid=12557.
Jeanne Hitchcock. “Mount Auburn Cemetery Project Clean-Up” Proposal (2011). Mount Auburn Cemetery Corporation/Sharp Street UMC.
Nancy Sheads. "Resurrecting Mount Auburn Cemetery." Maryland State Archives. http://mountauburn.msa.maryland.gov/index.aspx