Volunteers preserve historic slave cemetery in honor of King

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by JADE MINGUS / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @JadeM_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 21, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 21 at 6:35 PM

AUSTIN -- Dozens of volunteers spent MLK Day giving back to the community and preserving a piece of Austin's history.

American YouthWorks led the volunteer effort at Burdett Prairie Cemetery in Southeast Austin near Montopolis.

American YouthWorks helps at-risk young people through education, service and jobs training.

Volunteers mowed the lawns, cut tree branches, raked leaves and cleaned the neglected area.

"It was really bad here. Everything was overgrown and we had grass coming up to our chests," said American YouthWorks Instructor Levi Singleton.

The cemetery is rich in history. It was started by slave owner Jesse F. Burdett in the 1850s when he donated the land.

In the past two years, there has been a renewed effort to preserve the cemetery's artifacts. Adama Brown formed an association dedicated to preserving the grounds, raising money and conducting archaeological research. Brown said she is a descendant of Burdett's slaves.

"I think a lot of people don't realize how close we were to slavery and plantation," said Brown. "But it was right here in Central Texas."

Brown said there are thousands of graves in the cemetery, the oldest are located in a wooded area. Since the cemetery is private, it does not receive city money for upkeep. 

Brown hopes to raise money to keep its history alive. She said the YouthWorks volunteers provide an important service to her neighborhood.

"MLK talked about the beloved community. And to see all these people out here, different races, different ages and a lot of youth trying to make a difference and cleaning up the area really says a lot to me," said Brown. 

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