Austin Cemetery Chapel Floor Removed in Search for Graves

new new oakwood_chapel
City of Austin

Crews have removed the floor of the historic Oakwood Cemetery chapel in Austin as part of efforts to identify buried remains discovered last year during a restoration project, experts said.

The chapel was built in 1914 on what was then the nonwhite part of the segregated cemetery. The restoration project was halted in November when archaeologists working with contractors discovered human remains under the chapel. Workers also found discoloration in the ground of some grave sites, officials previously said.

About 50 people attended a public meeting Saturday to provide suggestions on how to proceed with recovery of the remains, such as contacting relatives if the deceased are identified, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

At least 13 grave sites, some partly obscured, have been seen, said Kevin Johnson, project coordinator at the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. Eight burial sites and three headstones have also been found on the chapel grounds, Johnson said.

City staffers will review the community feedback gathered during the meeting, plus comments received via email, and by April 7 make a draft recommendation on the next city's steps, Johnson said.

Moving or demolishing the chapel is not an option because the Oakwood Cemetery is a state and city historic landmark, said Kim McKnight, the parks department coordinator who has worked on historic cemetery planning. She said the building also lacks the structural integrity to be picked up and moved.

One option would be to exhume the remains, analyze them to learn basic details about the deceased and inter them elsewhere, McKnight said. Identification of the remains could be difficult because of limited documentation from the time period, she said.

Colony Park resident Barbara Scott, who has a friend buried at Oakwood, visits the cemetery on holidays and other occasions to place flowers.

"I think that especially the prominent African-Americans that are there need to be recognized, you know, with plaques or tours," Scott said. "I'm just hoping to see that that section of the cemetery is recognized."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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