Segregated Cemeteries

I learned something new to me yesterday when I was on my first cemetery field trip for my book project, Pioneer Cemeteries in Texas. My assistant (a good friend) and I spent time in Fredericksburg, Texas, at the Der Stadt Friedhof (German for City Cemetery) and at the Catholic Pioneer Cemetery associated with St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

As I was perusing the German pioneer graves at Der Stadt, I looked across the field to a section of graves about a football field away from the old German graves. I asked the caretaker of the cemetery why it was so far away. The caretaker, a young Hispanic man, shook his head and said, “That’s where the Blacks are buried.” His response was like a splash of icy water on my face.

The Catholic cemetery had a separate a section for Mexicans. Even the Mexican priests were buried here, away from the “White” priests who had large grave markers and an altar with a crucifix situated behind them.

I am not a youngster, and I should have known this. What is even more astonishing is that as recently as 2016, in one rural Texas town, a cemetery association tried to prevent the burial of a Hispanic man, the husband of a “White” woman. One of the association’s members allegedly told the deceased man’s wife that “he couldn’t be buried there ‘because he’s a Mexican’ and directed her to ‘go up the road and bury him with the n—– and Mexicans’,” according to a complaint filed in federal court by the widow.

The above information is from a Texas Tribune article titled “Texas Sued Over ‘Whites Only’ Policy,” by Alexa Ura, published May 5, 2016.

The article goes on to include the following: “ ‘Segregated cemeteries were ‘extremely common’ in Texas, largely because of Jim Crow laws’,” said Jenny McWilliams, cemetery preservation program coordinator for the Texas Historical Commission.

“ ‘Whites only’ ” cemeteries have been illegal since 1948 when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial covenants on real estate. State law also dictates that cemetery organizations may not ‘adopt or enforce a rule’ that prohibits burials based on ‘race, color, or national origin of decedent’.”

This is why field trips and interviews with locals are so important in research. There is only so much that can be gleaned from Internet research—the real stuff happens on the ground—or, in the case of graveyards, in the ground.