Austin's first African-American cemetery under repair


by HEATHER KOVAR / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT McKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 13 at 10:52 PM

AUSTIN -- Black civil war veterans, former slaves, and other early East Austin residents rest at Bethany Cemetery.

"The stories must be told about the ancestors in this community," Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis said.

Davis contacted the Travis County Sheriff's Office for help in restoring the historical burial ground months ago.

"This was truly an eyesore in this community for many, many years," Davis said at a press conference Wednesday at Bethany Cemetery.

Sheriff Greg Hamilton agreed.

"It was trees and trash everywhere," Hamilton said.

Hamilton sent out his "Sherriff's Weekend Alternative Program" or SWAP team to help clean the place up. SWAP is made up of people sentenced to community service instead of jail. They started the clean up last October.

Captain Wes Priddy said efforts will also help eliminate crime.

"Because of the state of the land, it was somewhat inviting for illicit activity towards the back of the property to occur," Priddy said.

David McCullough lives adjacent to Bethany Cemetery, and said he used to pick up trash left behind by drug dealers and prostitutes.

"These are our ancestors right here. We shouldn't even do a place like this," McCullough said.

When an initial clean up began in 1996, two infant headstones were found; both with dates prior to when this cemetery opened. 

Bethany Cemetery was founded in 1893 as a cemetery for African-Americans.

Sue Spears, who began work in 1996 to get a historical marker at the cemetery, said they found one stone from 1879, and another buried in 1886.

The Sheriff's office said they will continue their work at the cemetery for as long as it takes, but they are asking for the community's help. They need sponsors to help with work that costs money, like repairing fences and broken headstones.