RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Near the heart of downtown Raleigh is historic Mount Hope Cemetery.
“Mount Hope is very special,” said Ernest Dollar, executive director of the City of Raleigh Museum.
Founded in 1872, Mount Hope is one of the city’s oldest African American cemeteries.
It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
More than 7,000 people are interred in the historic section, including many who rose out of slavery.
“And truly, what we are today, these people did,” Dollar said.
Dollar is currently working on a temporary exhibit about Mount Hope.
“We really want people to come out and explore the really rich stories that are out here and tell us so much about how Raleigh was built, how it developed, and the Raleigh today depends largely on the stories of these people who are out here,” said Dollar.
One of those people is Dr. Manassa Pope. For 33 years, Pope practiced medicine in Raleigh and helped in white hospitals.
Dr. Pope served in the Spanish-American War and was Raleigh’s first black mayoral candidate in 1919. He died in 1934.
“I was not alive when Dr. Pope died and the second Mrs. Pope, was Mrs. Delia Pope, that I knew,” said Edna Rich-Ballentine.
Growing up in Raleigh, Rich-Ballentine knew the Pope family.
In fact, she spent a lot of time at Dr. Pope’s home on South Wilmington Street, which is now a museum.
Dr. Pope’s second wife, Delia, would often do her hair.
“And I had long hair and my momma did not like doing it. So periodically she would send me up here and Mrs. Pope would do it and she had her credentials from Madame CJ Walker,” said Rich-Ballentine.
Rich-Ballentine and Jane Thurman are with the nonprofit, Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation.
For years, they have been giving free walking tours of Raleigh’s historic cemeteries, including Mount Hope, incorporating Edna’s personal stories and experiences with the research.
“One thing I’ve loved about the tours is you never know who’s going to come,” said Thurman. “We have had descendants of slaves come who are looking for stories about their ancestors and there’s so much research yet to be done about the people who are buried at Mount Hope.”
It’s been their dream to create an exhibit about Mount Hope in the City of Raleigh Museum.
They have been working closely with Dollar to make it happen, searching archives and portraits.
“Mount Hope is a sacred place,” said Rich-Ballentine. “I think as long as we can preserve it and people have an interest in it, they’ll always find new research that can be done.”
“It’s appropriate that their final resting place is in the shadow of the city they helped build,” Dollar said.
The new exhibit at the City of Raleigh Museum will be called “Sacred Spaces, Sacred Stories – The Story of Mount Hope.”
It will open to the public starting March 4 through June 25.
You can also listen to a walking tour about Mount Hope Cemetery here.