Local News Posted on Tue, Feb. 26, 2008
About 200 are believed buried in old African-American graveyard in Mansfield
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
MANSFIELD -- Michael Evans stooped over and scratched into the earth as though preparing a future garden instead of tending to the past.
Ripping up weeds and sweeping aside sod, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church illustrated how much attention is needed at the Mansfield Community Cemetery, a graveyard for blacks for more than a century. He uncovered a rusted copper-toned nameplate for a World War I veteran that was embedded into the ground like so many others hidden in brush.
"These are people who lent to us their shoulders and their backs for us to stand on -- so that we can go to these colleges that we once couldn't attend, to live in these neighborhoods that we're now living in, to drive these cars that we're now driving," he said. "They deserve better than this."
Once known as the Colored Cemetery, the 1.3-acre site on Kimball Street near downtown Mansfield is believed to have about 200 graves. The graveyard sits next to the much larger Mansfield Cemetery, maintained by the nonprofit Mansfield Cemetery Association.
Evans would like a citizens association to maintain the black cemetery, or even to have the Mansfield Cemetery Association look after it. A wrought-iron fence separates the two graveyards, but Evans sees an old mind-set as the true barrier.
"When you think about it, some things go on for so long to where people have a tendency to ignore it," he said. "You can continue to ignore things for so long that they become invisible."
The cemetery was established in 1874, according to city records. Evans sees evidence of two recent graves, drying flowers only months old and dirt mounds waiting to sink into the ground. But they have no markers or any other indication who is buried there. Families make the arrangements, Evans said.
The largely black Bethlehem Baptist, which has more than 1,200 members, sets aside time on Good Friday for a group to go to the graveyard a few miles away and tend to the lawn, pick up trash and straighten tombstones. Other members help out at other times. The church also paid for a sign to mark the graveyard as "Mansfield Community Cemetery."
The graveyard's existence was a surprise to Jason Arellano, funeral director at Blessing Funeral Home, which has operated in Mansfield for nearly a century. Arellano came aboard about seven years ago.
"I was a little taken aback," he said of hearing of the graveyard.
Since he arrived, Arellano said, no one has approached the company about being buried there. Nor has anyone asked about genealogy information related to the site.
According to the Tarrant Appraisal District tax rolls, the land is owned by the Mansfield Cemetery Association. But the city and the Mansfield Historical Society have no deed on file. And the association says it doesn't own the site. JoAnn Harris, president of the association, said she doesn't know whether her group can take on the care of its sister cemetery.
"We operate on donations and the sale of our lots," she said. "I don't know if we can take that on or not, moneywise. We haven't been able to find who really owns it."
Evans remains committed to the cemetery.
"This is where I want to be buried," he said. "This is the community cemetery. ... This is a fitting place."
Transcription and Photos Coming