Lost African-American cemeteries located in SA

Landmark expert Everett Fly helps descendants restore their history

SAN ANTONIO – Two lost local cemeteries are no longer missing, thanks to Everett Fly, a nationally renowned expert on African-American landmarks.

"They're like signatures of San Antonio's historic culture, historic landscape and historic resources," Fly, an architect and landscape architect, said.

Based on oral interviews with descendants and extensive archival research from Bexar County to Austin, Fly was able to locate the cemeteries in Northeast San Antonio.

The first cemetery was on 40 acres of land that is now Loop 1604 and Nacogdoches Road, one of the busiest areas of the city.

"This was all ours. All of this was ours," Melanie Brooks, one of the descendants of the Jackson and Winters families, said.

"We're double kin," Cynthia Miller, a descendant, said.

Fly said the African-American settlements dated back to the post-Civil War era, when freed slaves were able to buy land from their masters.

He said among the first freed slave to purchase land was an ancestor of the Winters family, whose master was a scout for Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. 

The oldest aerial photo that Fly uncovered was dated 1939.

Fly said he was able to pinpoint where the community's school, church and cemetery were located.

Brooks said she remembers driving past the area with her father.

"He would just point out, 'That's where our family was buried at one time,'" she said.

Fly made a disturbing discovery about the cemetery that occurred in 1986.

He said the property was going to be developed, so the graves were disinterred and placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery about a mile away near Rolling Oaks Mall.

Fly said the land was never developed and is now prime real estate.

"They weren't moved really to protect them. It was just to get them out of the way," Fly said.

The families were never notified about the cemetery being moved, he said. 

"That disturbed my soul," Miller said. "Somebody got away with something."

Fly said after checking state records, he determined that there was no required permit allowing the remains to be moved.

"It's an affront to the families. It's an issue of social justice," he said.

Brooks agrees.

"Some things never change, and this is an example of that," she said.

Fly accompanied Brooks to where 66 of her ancestors were buried.

Among them was Amos Jackson, a Buffalo Soldier.

"No regard. No regard," Brooks said as she looked at the grave marker.

In sharp contrast, the second cemetery that Fly located was near the entrance to a subdivision off Wetmore Road. The land is fenced off, secured and maintained by volunteers of a homeowner's association.

"We knew it was here, but we didn't know where it was and how it was kept," Clifton Griffin Jr., a descendant, said.

The Griffin family cemetery was on 300 acres, where the families grew cotton and raised cattle.

"It was heart-stopping, almost beautiful," Griffin said when Fly initially told his family about the discovery.

But learning of the mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery was another matter.

"For them to show the disregard and disrespect for those who were laid to rest, it's pretty upsetting," Brooks said.

Brooks and other family members said they are grateful to Fly for helping them restore their history and the respect denied to their ancestors.

"The Lord has a way of bringing that back and bringing honor back, where honor is due," she said.

Fly said he believes a forensic archaeological investigation is needed to determine if any remains were left behind. Some of the remains had no permanent headstones, and there might be more than one person in a grave plot.

He said a meeting is scheduled next week with the current property owner of the site off Loop 1604 and Nacogdoches Road, the city archaeologist and a representative of the city's Office of Historic Preservation.

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About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.