CORSICANA (CBSDFW.COM) – The ugly process of racial segregation was supposed to have been laid to rest more than fifty years ago, in a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
Yet just this week, in a North Texas courtroom, officials argued over whether to relocate the bones of 25 people to a predominantly white cemetery.
The remains are believed to be those of former slaves who died more than a century ago.
The dispute stems from the discovery of an old cemetery, unearthed only after the drought caused the water level to drop at Richland Chambers Lake, near Corsicana.
“They moved a lot of cemeteries before the lake was there. This was once they didn’t know about,” says Detective Sergeant Hank Bailey with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office. “No one knew it was there.”
The Tarrant Regional Water District, which owns the lake, was beginning to remove the remains before recent rains brought the lake water back up.
The plans were to relocate them to Resthaven Memorial Cemetery, but then the Navarro County Historical Commission filed court papers to stop the move.
It’s because the deceased are believed to be black and Resthaven is a burial ground mainly for whites.
The commission instead wants them to be buried at Woodland Cemetery, the traditional resting place for blacks in Corsicana whose families did not have the money to bury them at Resthaven.
“We felt it was our duty to respect the people that were there and to follow through with the removal and reburying of those bones,” says Woody Frossard, who is the environmental director for the Tarrant Regional Water District. He’s overseeing the relocation of the remains.
Frossard says because the skeletal remains were underground for more than a century and underwater for more than twenty years, it’s difficult to determine exactly who is buried in the old graves.
“We don’t have any evidence yet to know the ethnicity of the people there. We don’t have any clue right now,” says Frossard.
“I really believe in my heart I know without a shadow of a doubt that those are some of my people,” says Margaret Evans, who lives in Corsicana.
Evans says her great-grandfather was buried where the lake is now. “Being a descendent I feel it is right and they should come back home,” says Evans “This is a historical place and we have other kinfolk out here and they should be buried here at Woodland Cemetery.”
Leonard Dixon with the NAACP in Navarro County echoed Evans. “The proper thing to do since they were slaves is to put them somewhere nice. If they would develop our area and make it just as since as Resthaven we would be very satisfied,” says Dixon.
Dixon thinks the Woodland Cemetery could be cleaner and have more maintance work done like the Resthaven cemetery.
Until the graves are moved from the lake many in Corsicana hope that at least now it will be a final resting place.
The chairman of the Historical Commission, Bruce McManus says to place the remains in the wrong cemetery would be an insult.
The remains will have to stay put at least until Friday, when a hearing will determine if race will play another role in their final resting place.