It was a Saturday morning that consisted of boots on the ground and rakes in the hands of members of the National African American Historical Society, after recently discovering a second abandoned black cemetery in Tyler.
Previously, Larry Wade, founder of the National African American Historical Society and retired teacher at Tyler ISD who still replaces history classes, led efforts to clean up and restore the Cemetery of the Universe, which he has heard of. for the first time by Vicki Betts, former librarian of UT Tyler and member of the Smith County Historical Society.
Wade said this was one of the reasons he started the company, so black history could be brought out and people know what they did. Wade said that even during slavery, great contributions were made by the African American population, such as the construction of the Capitol.
On Saturday, members gathered at the corner of Grande Blvd and Hollytree Drive, just behind Kendrick Cemetery, to clean up and begin restoration of the second black abandoned cemetery, Garrett Cemetery.
The second abandoned black cemetery that the historical society found and began to restore, although the first abandoned black cemetery is not yet fully restored and is in constant need of cleaning, such as cutting grass, removing branches and more Again.
Wade said they discovered Garrett Cemetery through word of mouth when someone contacted him after being seen on the news, speaking about the Universe Cemetery. Wade said the Garrett Cemetery was owned by a white family and was located on their private property. According to Wade, the family never knew they owned a cemetery, just land with a mountain bike trail.
Only seven members were in attendance on Saturday, but Wade hopes more volunteers sign up to help with the cleanup efforts. It welcomes churches, fraternities and sororities and any service organization to help clean up and restore abandoned black cemeteries along with its historic society.
On Saturday, the members in attendance focused on cleaning up the entrance to the cemetery first, so that as they move forward it will be easy to get in and out.
“This cemetery is a jungle,” Wade said, describing all the work the group had ahead of them.
The group needs power saws, weed killers, rakes, shovels, power saws, wood trimmers and hedge trimmers.
Wade said that unlike the first abandoned cemetery found, the Garrett Cemetery is located within the city limits. He strives to get help from city officials to see what they can do to help his mission.
“I’m trying to see if they can do anything and what they can do in a case like this. “When you have a cemetery that has been abandoned, what can the city do and what is it prepared to do,” Wade said.
So far, he said he had had a positive experience communicating with the city and was optimistic that people whose relatives buried at the cemetery could visit him.
“It’s a sad thing to have all of these people buried here and forget about them and abandon them,” Wade said, adding that he would like to let the community know what’s going on.
Wade said one of the goals of the National African American Historical Society is to find, identify and clean up abandoned black cemeteries. He explained why this is his life mission.
After studying the history of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, he noticed missing chapters in the history books.
“I have seen missing chapters in history. This is the history of America, and we need to know it. Until we know everyone’s story, we really don’t understand the whole story, ”Wade said.
Through the Garrett Cemetery, visitors can see a weeded area, full of vegetation and cycle paths that also look like a jungle. Through the weeds and along the paths, about 25 to 50 people are buried.
Wade said that although the Cemetery of the Universe has been cleaned up and restored, it requires ongoing maintenance.
“It’s going to be more than we can do. We can identify, we can put a dent in it and start it up, but it’s going to take the community and work with the city. I believe they will be of great help, ”said Wade.
Wade said more abandoned black cemeteries are being identified and hopes to make this a national movement so that abandoned black cemeteries in every county can be rediscovered and restored.
The company also welcomes donations and supplies.
Those interested in joining the company to help restore and preserve black cemeteries, or anyone interested in donating supplies or monetary contributions, can contact Wade at 903-452-3310.