Tombstone discovery in Museum District leads to questions for community and developers

Briana Conner Image
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Resurfaced headstones shine light on ugly part of Houston's past
The discovery of a tombstone in Houston's Museum District is raising questions for community and developers.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- There's been a mysterious discovery in the Museum District. A woman exploring a development site stumbled across a tombstone. The inscription showed it was for two men who were life partners in the late 1980s. They both died battling AIDS, but now, several decades later, their story is resurfacing.

There used to be residences at the corner of Calumet and Chartres. A driveway led to an apartment garage, but developers have knocked all that down. Their work revealed a headstone on the property. There's no telling when or how it got there, but the woman who found it believed she knew why.

"People with AIDS were treated like lepers," Melissa Mims said.

Mims said she was out on a walk Monday evening when she uncovered what may be a more troubling piece of Houston's LGBTQ history.

"It ended up being this tombstone of these two men that were partners," she recalled.

The tombstone said James Brickey and Kenneth French died nine months apart after battling AIDS in 1989. There is no official record of their internment, so Mims believed they may have faced discrimination in death.

"Gay men were not respected too well - the ones who had AIDS. I think it's a possibility that maybe they were denied a burial together, and maybe that's why they chose to be buried here. I don't know," Mims said.

Her desire to find out led to more of their story. The Texas Obituary Project collects old clippings which show French had a love for life, a sense of humor, and a commitment to his own beliefs. Brickey is described as a man who spent his whole life giving.

In turn, Mims said she would like to give the devoted partners of 12-and-a-half years the respect they may have been denied.

"I'm a member of the LGBTQ community," she said. "This definitely is dear to me for that reason. Just making sure that something's not just built on top of them without them being respected and known that they are here. If that's where they are."

It's not clear why the marker is on the property, or whether their graves are buried underground, but it is illegal in Texas to damage the space where a human has been interred or permanently laid to rest. JLL Real Estate and the developer are aware of the tombstone, but they have not responded to questions from Eyewitness News.

Those are answers Mims says her community deserves.

"Somebody, hopefully, will remember who they were and can have that connection, and we can have the story of who they were," she said.

For updates on this story, follow Briana Conner on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.