LEWISVILLE, Texas — Volunteers arrived in Lewisville early Monday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by cleaning and restoring a Denton County African American cemetery -- that many of them admitted they didn't even know was there.
"Yes, I did not know it was here," Jackie Shaw the Social Justice Minister at Westside Baptist Church said. "I felt guilty when I found it."
The Champion-Macedonia Cemetery, founded in the 1880's, is believed to hold as many as 134 graves, many of them marked only with crosses. Also, more graves are believed to exist unmarked throughout the small L-shaped property that is surrounded by warehouses, a car dealership and the Interstate 35 Frontage Road near Corporate Drive.
The cemetery holds the graves of formerly enslaved and free African Americans who established homesteads in Denton County after the Civil War. And although the cemetery is still used for present-day burials, there is no official sign, no historic marker, and the chain link fencing overgrown with weeds, brambles and vines.
"It's very emotional, it's very humbling," Shaw said. "And we just want to lift them up and make sure that their resting place is a beautiful resting place."
And on MLK Day, she got help. Hundreds of volunteers with chainsaws and lawnmowers, rakes and brooms, brushes and blowers, picked up and bagged leaves, cleared vines, and scrubbed and cleaned headstones.
"I don't know who is buried here," said Archie Rison, when asked about the unmarked graves. "And so they could be my relatives. So, the least I can do is clean off their graves and say thank you. Say thank you, because I'm this far because of them."
"It brings me so much joy. So much joy," said Shaw, of the massive volunteer effort.
But five miles north near Valley Ridge Boulevard there is another African American cemetery they would like to clean up next. Hidden next to a warehouse and railroad tracks, is Fox Hembry Cemetery. It was created in 1831.
The oldest grave, a sandstone marker, bears the name of a 14-year-old girl named Malinda, who died in 1845.
WFAA visited the cemetery with Mae Clark Broadnax and her family. When her time comes, she said she will be buried alongside her first husband and near other members of the Fox family, including her great-great grandparents.
"I'm proud of my ancestors. I'm really proud of them. They did a good job. They left a legacy for us," said Broadnax.
But even at this cemetery, with its nearly 200 years of history, it is not a legacy everyone respects. The entrance to the cemetery, a gravel road, parallels railroad tracks. An illegal dumping site of household furniture, tires, and other debris sits just yards from the cemetery entrance.
Sponsors of the Champion-Macedonia Cemetery cleanup and restoration event included Westside Baptist Church, Huffines Auto Dealerships, Amazon Lewisville Hub, Denton County Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, the City of Lewisville, Davoodi Family Medicine, Jeri Harwell with Republic Services and Denton-Lewisville Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.