Tensions Flare Between Descendants, Landowners over Access to Family Cemetery in Tennessee

The families of the Bell Town Cemetery have been denied access to their loved ones’ graves by an adjacent property owner.

The small plot of land in Cheatham County known as Bell Town Cemetery has more than 30 graves, including two World War I veterans, three World War II veterans and five generations of Joyce family members.

The cemetery has been used by African-Americans since the emancipation. But, recently, the peace has been disturbed. The families of the deceased can no longer access the burial ground. Tension has escalated to the point where sheriffs have provided escort to older family members wanting to visit graves of parents, grandparents and siblings.

You can read the sad details and watch a video in an article by Jessica Bliss in The Tennessean at http://tnne.ws/2w8zW9W.

My thanks to newsletter reader James Henderson for telling me about this story.


Awful old prejudices and nasty stuff. I hope a way will open up that Townsend and his ilk will stop this harassment. It’s clear the visitors to the cemetery aren’t the ones in the wrong. It doesn’t sounds as if they’re giving him grief by vandalizing or taking advantage of the easement. You have to be a strong, brave man to be a policeman in a small Southern town.


The Tennessean newspaper requires answering a survey in order to read the article. I’m sorry I was not able to read it.


The Townsends bought the property knowing there was an active cemetery present. I think they are in the wrong, especially since the black community has done no damage to the surrounding areas. It’s a shame.


I wonder what Townsend’s definition’s of respect and prejudice are. Obviously, he’s off the mark.


My ancestors are buried in a cemetery located behind a barn in Indiana. Have to walk behind a house and around the barn to get there. Last time I visited the owners of the house invited us in for a tour. Relatives had lived there in the 1800’s. there is no excuse for prejudice in this world.


My family had the same problem a few years back, so we took the property owners to court to establish right of egress. Since Alabama law prohibits destruction of cemeteries, the court deeded the land to the church to which the cemetery was connected. And family members and friends photographed the tombstones and documented burials there. In 2005, the Alabama Historic Commission designated it an historic cemetery. So the folks in Tennessee could follow a similar path to protecting their heritage.


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