Efforts to Uncover History in Historically Black Plano Cemeteries

For decades, two old cemeteries in the Douglass Community, a historically African American neighborhood in Plano, had fallen into disrepair. But, volunteers over the last four years have worked to restore the grave sites and are now uncovering the mysteries buried there.

Jeff Campbell, Director of the nonprofit Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, says many of the grave markers were either destroyed by weather or vandalism.

"They needed to be cleaned, but the immediate thing is they were knocked over," said Campbell. "The fence was in bad shape, really bad shape."

Since 2015, volunteers helped clean the marble monuments, rebuild a fence and restore the cemeteries that date back decades.

Old City Cemetery, also known as Pioneer Cemetery, was established in 1848. It was a white cemetery, but historians believe it later became one of the first integrated burial sites in Texas.

"That's rare in Texas and across the south to have an integrated cemetery like that," said Campbell.

Adjacent to Old City Cemetery is Davis Cemetery, established by a black sharecropper named L.A. Davis in 1945.

"African Americans at the time because of Jim Crow had trouble borrowing money to buy land or buy a home, so he just bought all of this and sold it to them," said Campbell.

"He donated this section for a cemetery," Campbell added, pointing to the plot of land along H Avenue near downtown Plano.

The latest phase of the restoration has crews working to identify unmarked graves.

Early this spring, Texas Cemetery Restoration used ground penetrating radar to search for possible unmarked graves. Based on the results, Campbell believes there are 29 unmarked graves between the two cemeteries.

"There could be more than that due to the Texas soil. It's hard to read," Campbell explained.

Wood markers may have been lost over time due to rot and weather. Others may have been vandalized and still more families may have been too poor to afford a marker.

Campbell says he's working with the City's Library to go over genealogy records to try to identify some of the unmarked graves. Others, they hope, can be marked with a monument to the unknown.

"If you look at Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, McKinney, all these cities, I tell people that they just didn't fall out of the sky," said Campbell. "These are the people who built your city and this is your city's history."

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