Dig 'em up, move 'em out

Columbus Realty races to move paupers graves

"The most I've been able to find are some minutes of a Dallas County commissioners meeting from 1850 that mentioned a $3.50 charge for a person to build a casket in those days," James says.

"Of course there are unmarked graves there. Many of Dallas' old, monied families bought huge family plots in Greenwood decades ago, and of course no one is going to dig up their dead to make room for more apartments," James says. "A lot of us think it's sacrilegious to move the dead under any circumstances. We wish they would leave them alone."

Marshall, himself an avid historian, blanches at any suggestion that the cemetery association has a disregard for the burial ground. "When we first began discussions about selling the property last spring, we did a painstaking search for records of the site. There was no evidence whatsoever of graves there," he says.

Wedged between noisy Central Expressway on the east and the trendy bars, eateries, and pricey new apartments of McKinney Avenue on the west, tranquil Greenwood Cemetery is the final resting place for several members of the Ervay and Akard clans, as well as other early leaders of Dallas politics and commerce. The cemetery also contains large, segregated sections of Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War.

Greenwood was established at about the time when the city's first Jewish cemetery (near south Akard Street downtown) and several freed-slaves cemeteries were placed at what was then the northern fringe of Dallas. Remains of several early Jewish settlers were moved in 1956 to Temple Emanuel-El's cemetery, which abuts Greenwood's northeastern border. An early Roman Catholic cemetery also shares a border with Greenwood and is now maintained by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

"Some of the cemeteries in the area were very casual cemeteries," Marshall says. "They were on the outskirts of the city, and any number of paupers or pioneers passing through the area buried their dead there. But we have never had any records on them."

It was the brazen bulldozing of a freedmen's cemeterynear Central Expressway and Lemmon Avenue in 1990 that galvanized preservationists in their efforts to take a more active part in the fate of aging cemeteries in old North Dallas. African-American activists rallied when workers widening the expressway unearthed skeletal remains of former slaves and their families. The preservationists successfully fought the construction until the highway department complied with state law and removed the remains.

James was a large part of the freedmen's-cemetery protest, and is widely credited as the person who knew state law well enough to assist in halting the road project until the remains could be treated properly.

"There are a lot of graves around here that, in the eyes of many, just don't count," James says. "They're paupers, or prostitutes, or freedmen, or people who were just passing through. They all deserve respect. All I know is that everyone is equal under God's eyes.

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