Welcome to the Save Sewanee Black History Heritage Trail!
This trail tells the history of our town’s African American community. The mission of the trail project is to honor and preserve the memory of this Sewanee neighborhood and its residents.
Most people who inquire about or visit Sewanee are focused on the University of the South, its liberal arts college and Episcopal seminary. Visitors tend to stick to the main road, like University Avenue, and marvel at the stone gothic buildings that conjure up comparisons with Hogwarts.
But, as this trail shows, there is much more to Sewanee and its history than the university alone. For many generations after its cornerstone was laid in 1860, on the eve of secession and civil war, Sewanee the town and place was home to a resilient and resourceful African American community. Its residents worked as custodians and cooks for the institution, as domestic servants for the town’s white families, and as Jacks-of-all-trades — garbage collectors, handymen, barbers, hostlers, gardeners — who did the everyday jobs that kept the “high class” white neighborhoods and the people who lived in them in good working order. Neither the University nor the town could have prospered with them.
Many of the Black people who moved to Sewanee after emancipation did so willingly and deliberately. They were attracted to the reliable employment the university offered, the cash wages it paid, and — compared to other areas of the South — living conditions that shielded African American people from the harshest discrimination and violence of the region’s Jim Crow racial order.
The homes of Black people were clustered in several areas of town, but the core of the community was in the “bottom” land east of University Avenue and south of the main campus. “St. Mark’s,” as it is called today, was a thriving neighborhood centered around the places marked on this Heritage Trail, like the “colored” cemetery and the Episcopal mission church.
All of these segregated places were set aside, funded, or underwritten by the town’s white leaders, but the Black residents of Sewanee helped build and maintain them. They flocked to the “swim pool” to beat the heat and played games on the ball field. They staffed their own school with dedicated teachers and laid their loved ones to rest in their own cemetery. They gave life to these places and made them sites of joy and neighborly warmth in the university town they called home and they deserved to be memorialized.
Check out the self guided driving tour here!
Delana Turner, Site Leader
Delana Turner (she/her) C’24 is from Hyattsville, Maryland. At Sewanee, she is majoring in American Studies while minoring in Politics and earning a certificate in Civic and Global Leadership. Through the Bonner Leader program, she is the site leader of the Heritage Trail Project. When she graduates in 2024, she intends to pursue a career in public policy.
The Save Sewanee Black History Trail took a village and we would like to take this space to thank everyone who made this project possible. Thank you to the Bonner Foundation whose Racial Justice Fund made this trail possible and to the Sewanee Bonner Program leadership team, especially Robin Michaels and Morgan Jennings, who helped us apply for the Bonner grants and supported the Bonner students in their research. Thank you to Steve Keetle, the wonderful graphic designer who designed our signs. Thank you to William Shealy and John Brewster Jr. from Sewanee Facilities management for helping with the construction and instillation of the signs. Finally, thank you to the St. Mark’s community members for trusting us with the your history and allowing us to help you preserve and memorialize your important stories.