Catherine Lawson ′09
Hometown: Stewart, Florida
Cool fact: When Catherine was a first-year student, she signed up for a tour called “Underground Memphis” thinking she would be exploring the Memphis music scene. She actually ended up touring the Zion Cemetery with Professor Milton Moreland. Little did she know, three years later she would be working on the same project as a Rhodes Student Associate.
What is the Zion Cemetery project?
The Zion Cemetery was established in 1876 by a group of former slaves; it is the oldest African American cemetery in Memphis. There are over 22,000 people buried there! Over the years, it became overgrown and forgotten about. Our project attempts to revitalize this cemetery. We coordinate volunteer trips to clear out the overgrowth with different groups on campus and in the community. We are in the process of diagramming the cemetery by entering the information from the original, hand-written ledger into an Excel spreadsheet. Lately I’ve been photographing each page and scanning it on the computer. Our ultimate goal is to enable family members to look up the section and grave number of their loved ones. They will also be able to see a digitized copy of the ledger and a picture of the gravesite.
How did you get involved with the project?
I had Professor Moreland for Search classes and I also did Rhodes Regional Studies with him. I did my research on the influence of the Civil Rights movement on the churches of the Mid-South. We discussed the Zion Cemetery project and I found it fascinating because of its historical and cultural importance in Memphis. I became very aware of the regional issues that have historically surrounded Memphis and they are still affecting our city today.
Why did you decide to major in English?
I decided to major in English because of my love of literature, writing, and analysis. I am particularly interested in the ways race and culture are depicted in literary works. Working on the Zion Cemetery project has really brought to my attention the importance of culture and family heritage in our community. The project is also a way for me to bring a historical perspective to my literary interests. Preserving the ledger will hopefully allow others the same opportunity.
Do you have time for any other extracurricular activities?
Yes! I’m the president of my sorority and I did a Summer Service Fellowship, working with three different homeless advocacy organizations in town. I was able to take my passion for working with the homeless and foster it in a full-time environment. It was an amazing experience.
What do you like about Rhodes?
I was drawn to Rhodes because it is a great place for opportunities both on campus and in the community. A lot of my activities on campus led me to community involvement and have really shaped the path I want to take in my life. As a senior looking back on my time at Rhodes, I can definitely see how my experiences here have helped me develop as a person and shaped my views of the world.