HOUSTON — Dozens of gravesites that were supposed to be relocated when Houston city officials expanded Lockwood Drive in the 1960s were found during a recent METRO project, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Turner made the announcement Monday from the historic Evergreen Negro Cemetery.
Turner said that about 33 gravesites and the remains from at least three bodies were found by workers during preliminary work for a rapid transit and drainage project. Personal effects were also found in the ground, according to Turner.
What is Evergreen Negro Cemetery?
Evergreen Negro Cemetery is near the intersection of Lockwood Drive and Market Street just south of the East Freeway. It's historic not only in Houston but the entire state of Texas. It's the third-oldest African-American cemetery in Houston, according to the state's historical association.
People were buried in the cemetery between about 1890 and 1966. It was very active between 1910 and the 1930s.
The cemetery is the final resting place for formally enslaved individuals, Fifth Ward residents, Buffalo Soldiers and WWI veterans, among others. Some tombstones have names and others do not.
At one point in time, the cemetery was owned by A.K. Kelley. Kelley was a businessman and philanthropist who was born into slavery. He "attained notable prosperity and civic recognition during his lifetime," according to the Texas State Historical Association. Eventually, he started buying up property in Houston's Fifth Ward.
Kelley died in Houston on Nov. 26, 1928, and was buried in the family plot in Evergreen Negro Cemetery.
Relocating the bodies
Turner said the city was supposed to relocate all of the bodies that were in the Lockwood expansion site in the 1960s.
The city added an esplanade in the middle of the road while in the midst of several infrastructure projects between 1940 and 1960. The esplanade project split the cemetery.
When it was being expanded, the city agreed to move the bodies to areas on both sides of Lockwood. Some said they moved about 400 bodies.
Recently, during the METRO project, they found out that not all of the bodies had been moved out from under the esplanade.
"The discovery is both disturbing and disappointing," Turner said. "It is clear that the city and its contractors did not remove all of the persons who were buried in Evergreen Negro Cemetery, especially as it relates to the esplanade."
Turner said the plan is to respectfully relocate the bodies. He said the project has been suspended and the city will do everything it can to make sure they didn't miss anything else. Turner said the goal now is to honor those who were buried there and also preserve and maintain the cemetery.
Turner said the oversight, intentional or not, was way before his time but will be corrected before the METRO project resumes.
Here's what Turner said during a news conference on Monday:
Here's video of a community cleanup effort at the cemetery in 2017: