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Memphians work to preserve the historic Zion Christian Cemetery on South Parkway

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A major effort is underway to maintain and restore an important piece of Memphis history.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the Seventh Annual Benefit Dinner for the Zion Community Project.

The dinner will be held Thursday night on the Rhodes College campus.

It's a fundraiser for the Zion Christian Cemetery, the oldest known African-American community cemetery in Memphis.

Several city and county officials, along with volunteers and bishops with the CME Church, will be in attendance.

Rose Flenorl, manager of Global Community Relations at FedEx will be the keynote speaker.

Matthew R. Davis III is scheduled to receive the Distinguished Service Award and Lee Bean will be the recipient of the Public Service Award.

WREG's Alex Coleman will even serve as emcee.

According the Zion Community Project's website, many historical events are associated with this cemetery.

During the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, numerous black victims were buried there. While most white citizens left the city, many African-Americans stayed behind to care for the sick, and the Pallbearers Association of the United Sons of Zion helped prevent looting and maintain order.

Zion Cemetery is also the burial-place of the three black merchants (Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and William Stewart) who were victims of the 1892 lynchings that inspired the international anti-lynching crusade of Ida B. Wells, editor and owner of the Memphis newspaper Freedom of Speech.

In addition, the cemetery is the resting place of numerous African-American citizens whose achievements contributed greatly to local, state and national history.

Many others are buried there whose names are not well-known or have been lost but who are nonetheless deserving of our respect and gratitude.

After many decades of use, Zion Cemetery fell into disuse and became overgrown with vegetation.

The Zion Cemetery Project now works to clear the cemetery and maintain this important Memphis heritage location, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.

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