Reminder of segregated past to be removed from Mineola cemetery

Reminder of segregated past to be removed from Mineola cemetery
Cedars Memorial Gardens (Source: Arthur Clayborn/KLTV)

MINEOLA, Texas (KLTV) - For years it’s stood as a reminder of a segregated past. Now the fence segregating a Mineola cemetery is coming down. We spoke to the people involved in the effort to further unify the grounds of Cedars Memorial Cemetery.

They tell KLTV that more than a decade after the first steps toward unity were taken, the decision to remove the fence was made after just a few phone calls.

“This all happened very very quickly. Just started really Monday morning that it came back up again with some citizens that came out here and saw. It’s not that we’ve forgotten about it, but you know things happen. But it’s the right time,” said Mineola City Manager Mercy Rushing.

She calls the removal of the fence a momentous and historic event.

Cedars Memorial Gardens was previously Mineola City Cemetery. Rushing said despite the name the cemetery has always been privately owned and the city has never had any ownership in the property.

Demethrius Boyd, Pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, said he first noticed there were separate cemeteries with a fence dividing them during a funeral about 13 years ago. That led him to ask who owned the church.

He learned the two sides of the had separate owners.

“I got the explanation that in times past it was known as the white cemetery and the black cemetery, and the fence was a divider between the two properties that were there,” Boyd said. “That kind of spearheaded my heart to kind of see what we could do about the presentation that it represented and possibly get a resolve that might be conducive with both parties,”

Some changes were made during that effort to get better access to the side of the cemetery where black people were mostly buried.

“We were able to cut an easement between the two. We were able to have opportunities for all cultures to be buried on both sides. We were able to have access between the two properties,” Boyd said.

But the fence remained standing. That is until Monday when the decision was quickly made to get rid of it.

Boyd says the decision is being driven by a desire to do what’s right and be unified as a community.

“It takes a whole village to do things like this. As long as issues of racism and things of those nature are just one culture’s issue, it’s just that culture’s issue. But, when it becomes a national, a unified issue, then we can address it to a higher degree,” Boyd said. “Overall we have a wonderful city. We have a heart to work together and always to unify. It’s just finding those opportunities that present themselves and handle it in the right way that promotes peace and unity within our community.”

The City of Mineola is providing the manpower and equipment through its public works department, Rushing said.

“The City can help with this. We want to help make this happen because it’s going to be good for our community,” she said.

David Collett is board president for Cedars Memorial Gardens. He said removing the fence is a no-brainer.

“Let’s just do it,” he said. “In fact, I wanted to do it last night but we decided maybe to make it a community event. I think it’s going to mean a lot. We need that. We need that image because the fence isn’t our image,” Collett.

For Billy Jean McCalla Jr., it’s a moment in which his grandmother would rejoice. He’s a member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the groundskeeper for the cemetery.

A role he embraced early on when he would visit the cemetery with his grandmother as a child.

“Pushing a lawnmower and a gallon of gas and not knowing why we were going but just the love of my granny. We’d go up there and we’d mow until we ran out of gas, and then she would take a hoe and just clean around the grave,” he said. “I was always preparing for this day. Limited funds, limited help, but always great faith that this day would come.”

The work to remove the fence is expected to start next week.

PREVIOUS STORY:

Copyright 2020 KLTV. All rights reserved.