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Sorority works to restore graves at Oak Cliff Cemetery after decades of disrepair

Sorority works to restore graves at Oak Cliff Cemetery after decades of disrepair
Sorority works to restore graves at Oak Cliff Cemetery after decades of disrepair 02:17

DALLAS — Inspired to bring both life and beauty to the Oak Cliff Cemetery after decades of disrepair, community groups have spent months restoring portions of the property. 

According to local historians, Oak Cliff Cemetery can be considered the oldest public cemetery in Dallas County. 

"This is an area that had been forgotten. We didn't even know that it existed. This was a way for us to get involved in community service by coming out here cleaning these gravesites of people who were loved and cherished and individuals who lived lives worth our time and effort," said RoseMary Bolden, President, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Alpha Xi Omega Chapter. 


Bolden said the group worked with members of the Tenth Street Taskforce and the Oak Cliff Cemetery Board of Trustees for months, cutting down overgrown tree branches, pulling weeds and picking up trash to restore dignity to as many as 200 graves. 

The group gathered Wednesday to place flags and flowers around the plots. 

"And so it is with great joy and admiration that we are able to provide this kind of service, enhance this environment, this gravesite," Bolden continued. 

Many of the graves have been connected to formerly enslaved people from Texas and other regions of the southern states who are now honored federally and formally through Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. 

The work is especially meaningful for Larry Johnson, Trustee for the Oak Cliff Cemetery. 

An Oak Cliff native, Johnson said when the group first started the work, it was simply about cleaning the area, as portions of the cemetery went untouched for years. 


"But then we began to uncover gravestones and family plots. And then the families started showing up to close chapters in [their] family heritage, so the work took on a different meaning," said Johnson. 

The work is not finished as the group will soon turn their attention toward unearthing the graves that are missing headstones in a continued effort to reunite families. 

"Best case scenario [is that] we uncover as many graves as we can. And on top of that, we mark as many people here as possible that don't have gravestones. We have families [that] come from far and wide, come from all parts of this world…to see family members that once upon a time couldn't [be found]," he added. 

For one sorority member, the impact of the work presented a clear link to her past. 

"It means not forgetting about the ones who made it possible for me to be where I am today," she said gesturing proudly to the rows of graves in front of her. 

President Bolden said the work is an opportunity to bridge the generations while bringing honor to a garden of the formerly forgotten. 

"It's important that we're out here, but it's equally important that we get younger people to come out and to help us with this work, to understand the importance of African-American history," she said. "You know, if you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going." 

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