High Tech Cemetery

Evergreen Negro Cemetary
Just at the corner of Lockwood and Market Streets sits an old African-American cemetery. The dilapidated burial ground dates back to the 1880s and is the focus of an extensive geological and historical study. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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For decades, the Evergreen Negro Cemetery was hidden under waist-high grass and rubble. It served as the local gang hang-out -- a good place to negotiate drug deals. But over the past couple of years, several community groups have cleaned it up -- mowing the grass on weekends, picking up the trash and building a fence around the perimeter. And this summer, the cemetery became the pet project of two geophysicists at Rice University. Allison Henning brought a group of middle school science teachers to the cemetery to map out the gravesites using GPR technology.

"They were able to come out and figure out where to lay out the lines, how to collect the data, how to interpret it, how to use what they had learned to design the rest of the experiment. And they were able to go back into the classroom and explain to their students you know, here's the problem: we were looking for unmarked graves, here's the tools that we had, here's how we decided to use them."

The teachers took radar images of the ground and located hundreds of anomolies under the surface. Most of those anomolies indicate gravesites. At that point, Rice Professor Dale Sawyer and his class came out to do more geological surveys, to pinpoint the exact location of each grave.

"Really, the history as we find it here in the headstones and in any of the information we or others can provide about how many burials are here, how are they distributed, are there many. There presumably are many more burials than there are headstones. And the headstones may not -- may have moved over the years. So documenting what's here now I think is really what -- what we're after."

Once all of the geological data is gathered, Sawyer will help a local preservation group called Project Respect compile the information into an interactive website.

"For each of the stones -- headstones in the cemetery -- it will have -- there will be a map. A person can click on a feature on the map and up will come a photograph of that headstone from maybe one or several directions. Up will come information about the names -- the information on the stone, the year of birth, death, whatever is present there whatever symbols are present on the headstone. And also a description form. The form that the teachers this summer filled out with their description and sketches, relationship of the stones to others, will be possible to obtain that online."

Sawyer says very little is known about the graves and the people buried there. So this partnership between science and history is the first step in recreating these bits and pieces of information into a complete picture of the Evergreen Negro Cemetery. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...