Hitchcock police chief calls out owner of historic Black cemetery to clean up site

Shannon Ryan Image
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Hitchcock PD chief wants historic Black cemetery's owner to clean up
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A family is preparing to bury a loved one in a family plot, but they say they're doing it begrudgingly as the cemetery's owner remains unmoved to clean up the land.

HITCHCOCK, Texas (KTRK) -- Trash and tree limbs cover headstones at Mainland Memorial - a historic Black cemetery in Hitchcock.

"It wasn't great, but it's just gotten worse and worse," Edward Williams, whose brother and father are buried in the lot along with other relatives, said.

Williams said the degradation began when a new owner took over the property.

"It just doesn't look like it's a peaceful place to be buried," he said.

On Saturday, his mother will be buried in the cemetery. Worried about the potential condition of her plot, he and his surviving brother, Herbert Williams, visited the site on Tuesday to clean things up.

"It is as it is. We already paid for the plots here," Edward Williams said.

Herbert Williams will be buried in one of the plots along with his family. Currently, Edward Williams said he plans to be elsewhere. If he passes first, he told ABC13 he doesn't want his wife to have to visit him in such conditions.

"My hope is something will be resolved, and they'll get things more well-kept," Herbert Williams said.

For years, the Hitchcock Police Department Chief Wilmon Smith has been fighting for the same thing.

"This is (going to) be somebody's final resting place. It should look like it," Smith said.

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After posting the cemetery conditions on Facebook, Smith told ABC13 he received a significant number of offers to help.

"I could probably have 100 to 200 volunteers out there in no time flat, but that's not the point," he explained.

Smith said he rebuffed the offers. There is only one person he wants to clean up the cemetery - its owner, who he claims has neglected the property since he purchased it 12 years ago.

In 2018, 13 Investigates filed a report after a man claimed he could not get the cemetery to place his son's headstone for nearly a year.

The owner is due in court next week. Smith cited him for failing to maintain the property.

"The point is he has a duty and a responsibility to take care of this cemetery, and the citizens of this area need to hold him accountable to make sure that he does, and so far, we have not done a very good job of that," Smith said.

Historian Sam Collins said the site is culturally significant. There have been ongoing efforts to obtain historical designation to help with maintenance efforts.

"This is one of the African American cemeteries during segregation," Collins explained.

John Gibson, who some consider the first principal of the first Black high school in Texas, is buried in the cemetery. He is also known for his efforts to help clean up after the storm of 1900 and held a presidential appointment in Liberia.

Lorraine Crosby, of the Lorraine Crosby School in Hitchcock, is also buried at the cemetery. Crosby was a former teacher and principal at the school.

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