Historic Colored Cemetery revitalized
MATHEW SHAW | 5/19/2019, noon
The Dallas Examiner
The Arlington Heritage Memorial Grounds, located on West Arkansas Street in Arlington, was once the only cemetery in Arlington to allow burial plots for Black people. Now situated between an apartment complex and a convenience store, the long-neglected cemetery, with its rundown fence and collapsed headstones, will receive a renovation.
The project, which began in February, will include a fixed fence, restored gravestones, security and an interactive tour, according to the Arlington Historical Society website. It is a partnership between Arlington, Tarrant County and AHS, said AHS director Geraldine Mills.
Located about three miles south of downtown, the cemetery used to be in the middle of cotton fields, Mills said.
“Every decade or so, somebody would find it,” she explained. “‘Oh, my goodness! There’s an old cemetery. Let’s clean it up.’ It would get overgrown again. It’s an ongoing thing. Hopefully we’re going to put an end to that. This will be the final cleanup.”
The section of the cemetery designated “Colored Cemetery” is in the western part of the grounds and was the only place for Black families to bury loved ones from the late 1800s until the 1950s, Mills noted. Its earliest known burial dates to 1916, according to the website.
“A Black family could go and say, ‘We need a place to put my mom or dad and purchase a lot,’” she explained. “They weren’t paupers’ graves, they paid for them, which back in the early 1900s, 30 bucks was a lot of money.”
The grounds consist of three cemeteries including the Colored Cemetery. The other two are Mill Creek Cemetery and Middleton Johnson Family Cemetery, named after the founder of Tarrant County, who was buried in Austin when he died in 1866 but was relocated to the Arlington cemetery in 1870.
The earliest known grave at the grounds dates to 1858 and belonged to a Quaker family, Mills said.
There are more than 103 burials at the grounds, 75% of which are Black families, Mills continued. The last White burial dates to 1926, and there have been no more burials since the 1950s.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, there was a growing concern about historic buildings being placed on some Black graves, Mills noted.
Since the 1990s, vandalism and homeless populations abused the grounds. In addition, pedestrians would cut through the cemetery for quicker access to the nearby convenience store, she explained.
She further stated that the repaired fence and parking lot will be the first step for the project, which will hopefully be finished in the next few months. Another part of the project is to build interactive apps for visitors to learn about the people buried there.
“It’s a great teaching tool,” Mills remarked. “Most young people don’t understand, can’t even grasp the concept that somebody would have to get permission to bury their family member somewhere or would be limited on where they could be buried. All this would be in the Jim Crow era, so it’s very important to history.”