Crews clean up historic Black cemetery vandalized in Austin

Headstones defaced in the distance at Evergreen Cemetery in east Austin (KXAN News)

AUSTIN, Texas – Austin city crews and some community members united Wednesday to remove graffiti from more than a dozen headstones at a historic cemetery for Black residents.

Vandals defaced nearly 15 headstones earlier this week at the Evergreen Cemetery in East Austin, the city’s first major municipal cemetery for Black people, according to Austin police.

This is sad y’all whoever in AUSTIN did this 🛑 THE BS! East side 😤

Posted by Sarah Long on Monday, September 21, 2020

About 12,000 people have been buried in Evergreen Cemetery, including some from the African American community and civic leaders. Black residents had been laid to rest in shared sites before the cemetery was created in 1926.

Nyeka Arnold, a co-founder of the local organization Black Austin Coalition, told the Austin American-Statesmen that she was heartbroken and furious after finding out one of her family’s headstones was damaged.

“We were taking initiative to clean up the cemetery, and it was like a slap in the face,” Arnold said, noting that her group had been coming to Evergreen since August to help maintain the cemetery.

Arnold said she appreciates Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other people across the city who have expressed their support.

Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department spearheaded the cleaning efforts at the cemetery as dozens of residents also passed by to show solidarity. Since it’s on city property, only city staffers can assist in the cleaning process that’s expected to be completed in phases over the next few weeks.

Others including De’Nerick Taylor, whose great-grandparents’ headstones were among those reported vandalized on Monday, were permitted to help.

“I would love to help to just ease the pain, so that I know that I did my part,” Taylor said.

Tonja Walls-Davis, division manager for the Parks and Recreation Department, also came out to help clean the headstones. She said the city is not equipped with security cameras that monitor the grave sites at city-managed cemetery grounds, noting that Austin has cameras for some of the on-site administrative facilities.

Alan Garcia, a curator of a virtual ATX Barrio Archive who also works for the George Washington Carver Museum, said he wants pay homage to the memory of the people whose headstones were vandalized and share their stories. Garcia said he discovered funeral programs for six of them and received permission from the city to post the programs as part of the independent virtual archive project.

“I think this was just an important way to celebrate their legacy,” Garcia said.