Heather Wilcox, director of JSU’s Center for University-Based Development (CUBD), recently received the award of merit from The Mississippi Historical Society for her outstanding work to restore and preserve the historical Mount Olive Cemetery.
Mount Olive cemetery is located on the campus of Jackson State University and suffers from years of deferred maintenance with many deteriorated markers and missing graves. The historic site is one of the oldest private cemeteries for African Americans in the state of Mississippi.
Wilcox’s ability to visualize the beauty underneath the dilapidated and decaying markers and mausoleums in the cemetery led to years of diligent research with the Center for University-Based Development staff to ensure proper restoration. Ultimately, she wanted to ensure that others did not forget the people buried there whose sacrifices made it possible for many of the freedoms we experience today.
“I completed the research for Mount Olive Cemetery because it was important to the community and our university,” says Wilcox. “Now we know how the cemetery was started, who is buried there, and this research tells the story of African-American culture in Jackson.”
Additionally, Wilcox has worked intensely to complete Phase I of the project, which included publishing a research book and restoring the Jim Hill and Ida Revels Redmond statues. In June 2017, Mount Olive Cemetery was finally added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Wilcox has energetically worked with the Division of Institutional Advancement launching a capital campaign to complete the final two phases of restoration that will include landscaping efforts, lighting, signage, a gate entrance and repair of 177 monuments. She is working with a diverse committee to raise $500,000 by June 30, 2019 to complete Phase III of the project. Phase III will include the building of a memorial wall for those buried in the cemetery with engraved names and bench seating. Wilcox envisions a beautiful, new cemetery that will allow Jackson State to protect and preserve the historical integrity of Jacksonians buried in the cemetery, who forged the path for a greater Mississippi.
“Years after I am gone, the research of Mount Olive will still be here for the students and community to absorb and appreciate,” says Wilcox.