Denton County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to begin restoring and maintaining a cemetery that was long forgotten by many with roots in a painful part of the past.
The St. John’s Cemetery sits just south of Pilot Point in the middle of a wooded field and surrounded by private ranches. From the small, residential road that passes it few would even notice the rusted fence and small wooden sign that marks it.
On that sign are the deteriorating remains of the words “Old Slave Cemetery.”
The 2 acre plot of land was used as a cemetery in the 1800’s by African Americans living as slaves in that part of the county, according to the county’s NAACP chairman Willie Hudspeth.
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Hudspeth said he’d only ever heard of the cemetery in historic notes before he went out searching for it himself; eventually finding its location with the help of ranchers living in the area.
When he got there, he said it had essentially been taken over by nature with overgrown trees and weeds covering the grounds.
Since then, for several months now, Hudspeth and various volunteers have come out to the cemetery every Saturday trying to clean it up, and so far have cleared much of the oldest portion near the front gate.
“Just let things go and we didn’t work towards trying to right what was wrong,” said Hudspeth.
He also began bringing the situation to the Commissioners Court and was pleasantly surprised to see them take action last week.
“I'm so excited about that happening,” he said.
During the vote, the court agreed to twice yearly maintenance of the cemetery.
Country historic leaders have also started surveying the cemetery in hopes of mapping out all of the graves that are actually in there; Hudspeth believes about 400.
The ultimate goal is to mark identities for each of the graves as well. Many in the cemetery are currently only marked by large rocks or severely damaged headstones.
The historic team also hopes to start doing similar restorations at other forgotten cemeteries in the county.