Historic African American cemetery being restored

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 4:31 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The once-abandoned Universe Cemetery, a historic African American cemetery, is being restored and preserved near Tyler off Highway 64.

The cemetery was rediscovered by members of the Smith County Historical Society. Those members proceed to show fellow colleague Vicki Betts who wanted to start working to restore and preserve the cemetery. Betts became concerned about the future of the cemetery after she discovered that the land was privately owned.

“That’s when I discovered it had gone into the hands of a private individual and at that point I became concerned with possibly Tyler moving out this direction, things could get bulldozed and nobody would even know,” said Betts.

Betts and others have since done the work to get a Texas Historical Commission Designation for the cemetery. This gives the cemetery some protection if the land is sold again by noting the cemetery in the county deeds.

Another individual leading the charge in the restoration of the cemetery is Larry Wade the President and Founder of National African American Historical Society. Wade has been organizing groups that work every third Saturday of the month to help clean up the cemetery grounds. According to Wade there are over 300 African Americans buried there, from former slaves and World War I and World War II veterans to an All-American fullback, Myles Anderson, and a historic Tyler educator, William Anderson Peete, the namesake of Peete elementary. Each tombstone signifying a portion of Tyler’s African American history

“60 something former slaves buried here that’s very significant you aren’t going to find that everywhere,” said Wade. “So cemeteries like this they need to be preserved so that everybody will know where they are, where they are located and who is buried here.”

Betts and Wade are looking for individuals to donate their time and money to help fix up the cemetery. They are also looking for rakes power saws and other equipment. The next cleanup is scheduled for the second Saturday of June because the third Saturday is Juneteenth, Wade hopes more individuals come out so they can not only preserve history but honor it.

“Because anybody that has ever lived is worthy of being remembered and when we abandon our cemeteries it is almost as if that person’s life was insignificant, and I can just not imagine a person living on this earth and not being remembered some kind of a way,” said Wade.

To donate you are encouraged to mail donations to the National African American Historical Society at P.O. Box 8090 Tyler, Texas 75711 or drop off a donation at the National African American Historical Society Museum headquarters 200 South Glenwood Blvd Tyler, Texas 75702.

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