Houston/ Arts & Culture
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Published on February 23, 2024
Houston's Historic Black Cemeteries Struggle for Preservation Amid Urban Expansion Source: Google Street View

Houston's storied Black cemeteries, crucial historical records of the city's African American heritage and final resting places for generations of influential individuals, face a continuous battle against neglect and the ravages of urban encroachment. The sprawling metropolis, known for its rapid growth and modernization marking a stark contrast between progress and preservation. Lisa Jedkins, the executive director of Project RESPECT, conscious of the stakes, insists that these "historic Black cemeteries tell about the way of life, they tell about the history," not only of Houston, but the legacies of its residents, according to the Houston Chronicle.

One such cemetery fighting to maintain its place in history is the Pleasant Green-Culbertson Cemetery, a family plot established on land bought by Patricia Angel's great-grandfather—a man once shackled by slavery, who secured these 12 acres as a testament to his kin's freedom and resilience, the plot now finds itself squeezed by the advancing tide of local industry with trucking and gas companies infringing on its borders, some family members like Angel and her son Patrick Young, push for its recognition and safeguarding, their plight catching the eye of the Harris County African American Cultural Heritage Commission (HCAACHC), which aims to shield and promote access to historical sites.

Amidst these modern pressures, Houston's Black cemeteries, such as the Harrisburg-Jackson Cemetery, have become a focal point for community-driven conservation efforts, with advocates and volunteers rallying to combat disrepair and shield these landmarks from oblivion. Dr. Donald Williams, who grew up across the street from Harrisburg-Jackson Cemetery where several of his relatives lay buried, is the latest in a string of caretakers contributing to the upkeep of the cemetery, which is believed to be established as far back as the 1840s, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The survival of the Pleasant Green-Culbertson Cemetery, and sites like it, isn't solely about maintaining patches of land; it's a fight to preserve the American narrative of which these cemeteries are intrinsic parts. "To remember is to resist," says Angel, in a statement captured by BNN Breaking, encapsulating the sentiment of those striving to hold on to this heritage that continues to persist staking a claim for both historical recognition and a respect that transcends generations.

With organizations like Project RESPECT and the HCAACHC extending their support, Houston’s Black cemeteries persist as living chronicles of a history that resonates with the triumphs and adversities of its African American founders and their descendants, they echo a story that demands to be conserved for posterity, bearing witness to a diverse and robust cultural past that shapes, informs, and vitalizes the communal memory of Houston’s African American community.