Travis County Restores Austin’s First Black Cemetery
published on March 8, 2013
Bethany Cemetery, Austin’s first African American cemetery, is getting a spring cleaning, after calls from the community to improve maintenance of the resting place of black Civil War Veterans, former slaves, and early Austin residents.
Bethany Cemetery was established in the late 1800s, when burial space set aside for African Americans in Austin’s historic Oakwood Cemetery was no longer available. The oldest known gravesite in Bethany Cemetery is infant Hellen Moore, from 1879.
Sue Spears pioneered preservation work on the cemetery 16 years ago and helped it receive a proclamation from mayor Bruce Todd as Austin’s first black cemetery, as well as a historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission.
“Bethany Cemetery is not just another weed-choked lot,” she comments. “It is a historical reminder of Austin’s African American community from the time of slavery to the Civil War through the present.”
Last year, when legal considerations prevented the City from continuing maintenance of the cemetery, which makes its home east of Downtown Austin at 12th Street and Springdale Road, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office offered to use Bethany as a weekend project for participants of the Sheriff’s Weekend Alternative Program.
“The history on the grave markers is simply amazing, and many of our SWAP participants are requesting to work on this project because the history is so moving,” said Major Darren Long of the TCSO.
Texas Disposal Systems also chipped in, providing two dumpsters to gather and transport massive amounts of cleared vegetation and brush. And, the Austin Branch of the NAACP volunteered to be the non-profit of record for the Bethany Cemetery project. Organization President Nelson Linder said, “There is no higher honor than ensuring that our ancestors are given the proper respect and recognition.”
The challenge that remains is perpetual care of the cemetery. “I’m so thrilled and gratified to see what the TCSO has done so far,” Spears said. “But so much more needs to be done, especially in terms of ensuring that someone will take care of this historic African American cemetery on an ongoing basis.”
Regent Property Group celebrates Texas history and commends Spears and the trilateral efforts of the TCSO, TDS and NAACP to restore Austin’s first African American cemetery.
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