African-American Cemetery Donated to Galveston Historical Foundation

Galveston's first cemetery designated exclusively for African-Americans has been donated to the Galveston Historical Foundation. It's worth more than $300,000, but to Galveston's African-American community it's priceless, as Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Rosewood Cemetery near Seawall Boulevard between 61st and 63rd streets was established officially in 1911, but it has graves and gravestones dating back almost to the Civil War. Galveston Historical Foundation President-elect Ray Lewis says it's a historic treasure they're deliriously happy to acquire.

"Myself and a group of us, plus a number of volunteers, have been working to try to acquire that cemetery for a number of years now."

For much of its history, Rosewood Cemetery was outside the Galveston city limits, but as the city grew and spread to the west end of the island, it was almost swallowed up by commercial and residential development. Lewis says it's a miracle it's still there.

"We've all kind of have been amazed at that itself, and we were a little bit worried that if we didn't do something it wouldn't be there. If some of us had not paid attention, there's a good possibility that it could have been just cleared over and no one would have known it."

Galveston developer John Sarraco bought the land containing the cemetery in the 1980s, and since then he's put up hotels and restaurants all around the cemetery. When he learned there are more than 400 graves there, he fenced it off to preserve it and protect the graves. Ray Lewis says the historical foundation offered to buy it, but Sarraco decided out of the clear blue to donate it. He says the foundation has plans for Rosewood and they'll start by identifying as many of the unmarked graves as they can.

"We're, number one, going to do something to recognize all the names of the folks out there. We want the community to know who's buried here, and there are some fairly significant individuals that were buried there. That's a historical cemetery, it's been around long, longer than 50 years now. We want to make this a part of historical Galveston."

Lewis says the foundation is working to clear the brush and overgrown vegetation, and they're talking about landscaping, benches, and other amenities, and setting up guided tours. He says they want Rosewood to be a destination for people who want to know more about the history of Galveston's African-American community. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.