A trio of honorees, members of the Zion Community Project, Inc. board and project supporters framed this celebratory moment at the annual fundraising dinner at Rhodes College. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

A near-capacity crowd celebrated the Zion Community Project’s 11th Annual Fundraising Dinner at Rhodes College in support of the Historic Zion Christian Cemetery, 1426 South Parkway East, last Thursday.

Using the theme “Zion: Still We Rise!,” local WREG-TV Channel 3 anchor Alex Coleman guided the program that included a welcome from board member attorney Reginald Eskridge, great food, wonderful fellowship, deserving awards and a masterful keynote address.

A significant change in the program had been facilitated by the Zion Board’s action to personalize the three major awards. As such, the “Rose Flenorl” Public Service Award was presented to Steve McManus (First Horizon Advisors) by Rose Flenorl (manager of the FedEx Global Citizenship Group).

The “Ron Walter” Preservation Award was presented to Mark L. Stansbury (retired-assistant to the president, University of Memphis) by Ron Walter (president and general manager, WREG-TV Channel 3 and Zion Community Project board chair Emeritus).

The “William Smith” Legacy Award was presented by Mrs. Lillian G. Smith (widow of Reverend William Smith) to Rhodes College and received by Dr. Marjorie Hass, Rhodes College president.

In her keynote, Hass tied the original purchase of the Zion Christian Cemetery in 1873 by freed slaves identified as the Sons of Zion to the Genesis 23 record of the Abrahamic sojourn in Canaan and his need to purchase a burial plot for his beloved Sarah. In so doing, she emphasized the importance, then and now, of cemeteries and the historical record of the accomplishments and significance of those interred therein.

Board Chair Dr. Tyrone Davis announced the continued efforts of the Project to seek funding for its educational component involving high school and college students.  He also reaffirmed the late Summer 2020 schedule for the publishing of the project’s history book.

Founded in 1876 on 15.2 acres of land in the heart of Memphis, Zion Christian Cemetery has more than 30,000 people of color interred.  The last burial was in 1974.  The property was deeded to the CME Church for “safekeeping” in 1986 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 1990.

The Cemetery continues to be leased to the Zion Community Project (a Memphis based nonprofit) and over a 10-year span, thousands of volunteers have worked to clear this historic site of overgrowth and debris.

(For information about partnerships and other support, visit www.ZionCommunityProject.org or call 901-345-4100.)