By Aaron P. Goffney
Nestled in the middle of an industrial neighborhood where many awake to the vigorous hustle and bustle of everyday life lies an area where thirty-five, and possibly many more, black Houstonians share their final resting place. Situated by a bayou that is lined with trash and home to squirrels, birds, rabbits, snakes, and herons, this African American cemetery holds the stories of its inhabitants’ migration to Texas along with their dreams, challenges, successes, and tragedies.
When Texas was a Republic, slave-owners from neighboring states came to the area to take advantage of the opportunities Texas had to offer. According to Texas law, “all free white persons” who lived in the Republic for six months, intended to stay permanently, and swore allegiance to Texas could enjoy “all the privileges of citizenship,” which included owning slaves. After the Civil War, an influx of newly freed slaves and emigrants moved west. States such as Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas all share stories of freedmen and their families who traveled to Houston seeking job opportunities and a new way of life.
The lives of the people buried in the Dawson Lunnon Cemetery steer you through a timeline of the common toils and tensions most black families endured during the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement. Virginia Hancock, researcher and advocate for preserving this historical site, assured me as we chatted and sipped our coffee that this story would be a good one.