Rosewood Cemetery, Galveston’s Oldest African-American Burial Grounds, to be Dedicated
Rosewood Cemetery, Galveston’s first burial ground designated exclusively for African Americans, founded in 1911, will be formally recognized and dedicated in a ceremony at 10 a.m. on June 16, 2007, six months after the cemetery was donated to Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) by developers Judy and John Saracco.
“It is so gratifying to be able to claim this important piece of our heritage and to honor those who are buried there,” said Alice Gatson, chair of Galveston Historical Foundation’s African American Heritage Committee.
The dedication ceremony will include a blessing of the cemetery by a representative group of clergy from the Galveston Ministerial Alliance, a performance by the youth choir of Avenue L Baptist Church, and the unveiling of a new cemetery entrance marker by Dwayne Jones, executive director of Galveston Historical Foundation. A reception with light refreshments will follow. The event is free and open to the public. Call 409-765-7834 for more information.
Since the cemetery was donated, GHF’s African-American Heritage committee, along with GHF staff and community volunteers, have been working to clear the site of overgrown vegetation and develop a plan for its long-term maintenance and development. So far, plans include fencing, drainage, a Texas Historical Commission marker, and a series of archeological digs to identify gravestones that have sunk below ground level over the years.
Four hundred eleven graves are listed in records as being located at Rosewood. Today, markers exist for only around twenty. The last known burial date is listed as 1944.
The cemetery was established in 1911 by a group of African American citizens who organized themselves as the Rosewood Cemetery Association. The association purchased the land from the Joe Levy Family and 86 shares were divided among 26 shareholders. Churches, associations, societies and individuals, including the Wright Cuney Lodge, purchased the shares. The first person buried was Robert Bailey on February 1, 1912, and the last burial was Frank Boyer on June 29, 1944. The original cemetery was approximately eight acres in size. Today, all that remains, a space a little more than an acre in size, is what has been donated to GHF.
On September 7, 1945, one of the shareholders sold 19 of its shares to Thomas Armstrong. In 1957, Armstrong purchased the remaining shares of the Rosewood Association. Upon Armstrong’s death, his estate sold the property to Saracco, the person who donated the cemetery to GHF.
The cemetery was part of an eight-acre parcel of land at Seawall between 61st and 63rd streets that Saracco purchased in the early 1980s. Since then, a Comfort Inn, Super 8 Motel, Waffle House and Beachcomber Inn have been built on the property that surrounds the cemetery. The cemetery sits directly behind the Comfort Inn off 63rd.
Knowing when he purchased it that the property he planned to develop contained a burial ground, Saracco says he had the land fully surveyed for graves before development began. He then had the cemetery fenced so the graves would not be disturbed.
“It is very unusual for a historic preservation organization to become the owner of a cemetery,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of GHF. “But it is a progressive idea. By doing this we are able to recognize the cemetery as sacred grounds for the families of those buried there as well as a valuable part of the cultural landscape for the whole community.”
Rosewood Cemetery Dedication, June 16, 2007, 10 a.m., Rosewood Cemetery, near 64th Street between Seawall Boulevard and Central City Boulevard.