Local youth spend a day in the past

June 19, 2009 4:29:29 PM PDT
A new historical marker was unveiled at Emancipation Park in honor of Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865, when the announcement of the abolition of slavery was made in the sttate of Texas. Some local teenagers spent this day in a local cemetery to commemorate the past.Nekia Bedfor never thought she would clean up a gravesite marker, much less spend all day in a cemetery.

"The first time I came here, I thought, 'No way am I going in there,'" Nekia said.

But once inside, she realized learning about the past can unlock the mysteries of her own future.

"I grew up in foster care, so not knowing my family and where I come from sparked my interest in finding people that I never knew," Nekia said.

The odyssey into the past was initiated by the City of Houston's summer youth job program. This group has the challenge of identifying and researching the people buried in College Park Memorial Cemetery, the second oldest all black cemeteries in the city. Every headstone and every marker was assigned to one researcher.

Darryl Allen learned the family of Neely Ethan Allen, Jr. was close knit, all living close to each other and buried close to each other. Researching the census showed Darryl the head of this family earned a living as a cotton laborer, giving Darryl pause to reflect on his own future.

"It really inspires me because I'm at the point of my life where I'm trying to direct my path and figure out what I want to do, so it inspires me that I can do anything and make it," Darryl said.

While there is triumph, there is also tragedy.

Darrel Flakes learned by reading old newspapers that Jim Perry was 78 years old when he was beaten to death, allegedly by 4 white teenagers in 1964. It is fitting, according to Darrell, to pay tribute to the WWI veteran on Juneteenth.

"His grave was dirty," Darrel said. "Now it's clean, and I want to find his ancestors and tell them I'm trying to revive him."

The young researchers were humbled by what they learned.

Visitors to Emancipation Park to see the historical marker also recognized the past.

Emancipation Park was established in 1918, and the marker erected is the first of its kind to designate the park as a historic site of Houston.

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