An Irving community group is asking for help from volunteers this weekend to preserve a piece of history – one of the oldest known slave cemeteries in Texas.
There are 189 confirmed graves at Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery, which sits on a hill overlooking the interchange of Highways 161 and 183, just southeast of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Many of the graves pre-date the Civil War, and all of those years have not been kind to the cemetery which was designated as a historical site by the Texas Historical Commission in 2000.
Several of the tombstones are broken while some gave way to weather and time; others are suspected to have been damaged by vandals.
In addition, the cemetery is losing a constant battle with brush that grows too quickly for the small army of volunteers who act as caretakers of the property.
“It’s holy ground. It’s sacred ground,” said Anthony Bond, who helped to rediscover the cemetery in the early 1990s, when asked what the cemetery means to him.
Bond, who established the Irving chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has spent more than 20 years researching the history of the cemetery, and maintaining its grounds.
Bond is quick to credit the work and expertise of others, including Frances James, who he calls the “Cemetery Lady,” in helping to ensure that the cemetery will not be forgotten.
“Somebody asked me this morning, ‘Why are you so concerned about dead people?’” Bond said. “These people are not dead to me. They’re alive to me. Their spirits are alive.”
Bond vividly remembers the overwhelming feeling of responsibility he felt in 1994 when he first came upon Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery and it was all but consumed by chest high growth of weeds and brush.
“I dropped down on my knees and I cried like a baby. This stuff bothers me,” Bond said, pausing to compose himself. “It seemed as if the souls of all these black people cried out to me, ‘Anthony, don’t let them do this to our final resting place. We suffered enough in life. Don’t have our final resting place be desecrated like this and let us suffer in death, too.”
At 8 a.m. Saturday, Bond and a handful of volunteers will be at the cemetery to clear brush for the second time this year. (Though the cemetery is located at 1525 Hard Rock Road, it is only really accessible by parking on the shoulder of Highway 161 parallel to that address and walking up a short, steep hill.)
Bond asked that any volunteer who is interested bring gloves and tools to help with the job, which he said should take a few hours.
If anyone is interested in volunteering and has any questions, Bond asked that they reach him at 214-830-6719.