North Texas

Volunteers Spend MLK Holiday Cleaning Up a Slave Cemetery

Around 200 slaves and freed slaves are buried in Shelton's Bear Creek Cemetery along President George Bush Turnpike in Irving. Almost that many volunteers spent much of their Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in service at the cemetery.

Organizer Anthony Bond said he had never seen so many people help him with the historic burial site, but past cleanup efforts were not on the MLK Holiday.

"I got to believe it's because of what MLK meant to so many," Bond said.

Kids from several schools were there. Adults from all over North Texas pitched in. One man from Prosper brought a whole crew of men who chopped down dead trees and removed stumps.

For some volunteers, it was an emotional experience.

Francine Richardson came from Forney.

"I don't know these people, but I feel like somehow I'm connected. I felt like they're a distant relative," she said. "I felt like, 'I'm able to be free in my career and advance in my life because of the backs of my ancestors.'"

Bond told the crowd that the cemetery was once in the middle of a vast plantation.

"It was a big cattle and cotton plantation, all around here, everywhere you look. And the black people buried in this place, in this slave cemetery, they were brought here as slaves, from Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky," he said.

Bryce Nivet, a freshman at St. Mark's High School in Dallas said he was amazed to learn about the size of the former plantation as he spent part of his holiday in service to the slaves who were buried there.

"It's not even comparable to what they had to go through, but I'm just thankful I had the opportunity to come out here," he said.

The streets of a new housing development adjacent to the previously isolated cemetery made it easier for volunteers to visit Monday.

Anthony Bond said plans are in the works to create an organization to support the cemetery and make it an historic landmark. That would help preserve the slave burial ground and bring more visitors to the site.

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