Saturday, June 19, 2010

Juneteenth - Olivewood Cemetery

Special Ed, Magnolia Marc and I went on a photo safari this morning. Our plan was to shoot old abandoned buildings, which we did later in the day, but we started off at Olivewood Cemetery.

Olivewood Cemetery lies near a bend in White Oak Bayou, along the rail line to Chaney Junction, where the First and Sixth wards meet just northwest of downtown. The 6-acre cemetery is a historic resting place for many freed slaves and some of Houston’s earliest black residents.

In 1875, the land, which had previously been used for slave burials, was purchased by Richard Brock, Houston's first black alderman. It opened as a cemetery for black Methodists in 1877. When Olivewood was platted, it was the first African-Americans burial ground within the Houston city limits. The cemetery contains graves of both the well-to-do and those who died in poverty; therefore, the grave markers run the gamut from elaborate Victorian monuments to simple, handmade headstones. Burials at Olivewood Cemetery continued through the 1960s.

While we were out there, an archeologist showed up and said he was doing some historic research. He said there would be a crowd of folks out later in the day given that today is Juneteenth. He was part of a non-profit group called "Decedents of Olivewood." He told us that the site was supposed to contain 440 graves, but his research over the last nine years has revealed there are more than 800 graves at the site.

Even though the Decedents of Olivewood was established to take guardianship of the cemetery, decades of neglect and abandonment are evident. Water and vandals have damaged many of the graves, and at the back of the cemetery many of the graves are hardly visible because of the overgrowth and disregard.