Volunteers clean-up historic Nacogdoches cemetery, remember slaves buried there

Grave believed to be that of an area slave
Grave believed to be that of an area slave
90 year-old Lonnie P. Sparks volunteers
90 year-old Lonnie P. Sparks volunteers

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – The North Redland Cemetery Association is dedicated to cleaning-up old, historic black cemeteries in the northern area of Nacogdoches.

Saturday morning, they rounded up volunteers to focus on the black cemetery behind Old North Church off County Road 205.

"I just imagine it started as one cemetery and later it got larger and blacks was deposited at the back of the white cemetery... Later on this part... Was adopted and been in use ever since," said Roy Mills, President of North Redland Cemetery Association.

Mills leads up the clean-up effort.

"I can't tell you how old this cemetery is, but we know slaves are buried in this cemetery," said Mills.

This cemetery's rich history draws volunteers like Archie Rison who drove down from Dallas for the event.

"It's really important to take care of these places because these people are laying here and they paved the way for us to be where we are now. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be where we are now," said Rison.

For some, its personal ties that bring them here to restore, preserve and remember those who came before.

"We used to work the white folks graveyard up there when we was kids," said Lonnie P. Sparks, 90 year-old volunteer.

Sparks, rake-in-hand, was glad this place is finally getting attention, but believes more can and should be done.

"What I hate back at that end, don't have tombstones or nothing... They had little old tin things sticking up at the head of them and after cleaning up they would tear down and throw them away," said Sparks.

As the clean-up continued, an unmarked grave was discovered outside the main cemetery line. That sparked the idea there could be more graves out here that haven't been found yet.

There's hope for all of the unmarked graves.

"There are some where the names are gone. We will be working with community trying to identify those graves so we can get the names back on them," said G.W. Neal, volunteer.

It's all apart of remembering and respecting the past.

"You're honoring your ancestors. We just lifting them up where they're supposed to be," said Mills.

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