MT. AUBURN – OPPORTUNITY CEMETERY
One Headstone Reads: ” An Old Slave, 102 Years Old”
E. B. Meeks, Member of Secret Society
Between 1872-73 and 1880, when the railroads finally arrived in the city of Dallas, the population had expanded from approximately 3000 to 10,358. When the 1900 Federal census was taken there were 42,638 people living in Dallas. This growth could also be noted in the number of burials each year as many of the Civil War Veterans returned in poor health. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, smallpox, malaria and yellow fever were prevalent and one in five babies died before they were one year old. The city’s white pauper cemetery, adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery, which had been in use between 1868 and 1900, was running out of space. An article in the paper dated 1901 suggested that probably 3000 people had been buried in the five acre site and that the only spaces left were up close to the fence line. The black population remained about ten percent of the white citizens and the largest cemetery for the blacks was Freedman’s Cemetery just north of town and it had already reached capacity.
On June 28, 1903 in the Dallas Daily Times Herald on page.8 column. 2 the headlines stated that a law had been passed by the legislature that “all physicians, surgeons,” accoucheurs” or coroners are required to make reports of births or deaths coming under their personal observation.” Again in August, another article made note that the law was not being complied with. This was the first attempt to keep accurate vital statistics. Many people buried in the Mt Auburn Cemetery are unaccounted for.
A decision was made that six acres of land on the east side of Oakland Cemetery would be purchased with plans to use it as another pauper/potter’s field to replace Freedman’s Cemetery. Another article in the paper mentioned the city had been trying to get access to the land from the property owner and may have to take it to court! On Saturday, May 18, 1901 the minutes of the Commissioners Court reflect that J. L. Crawford should be paid $600.00 for the six acres of land, and the deed should be recorded. It had been, in Volume 265 page 208 dated May 17, 1901. Thus the Mt. Auburn Cemetery was opened in 1907 as a joint city/county pauper’s cemetery for blacks and whites.
In the minutes of the Commissioners Court dated June 19, 1924, the court gave the City Engineering Department permission to grade Reed and Calvin Streets. The minutes noted that this was to furnish drainage for the vast amount of water that accumulates and is stagnating in the vicinity. Since the alignment runs through the County Paupers’ Cemetery and over several shallow graves that interfere with the grading, they also have permission to remove the bodies to another portion of the cemetery without any expense to the county. The records do not clearly state who “they” were or where “they” were reinterred.
Another notation signed by the County Judge, Robert Ogden, on March 16, 1936, was to transfer the 112 X 311 feet, or about 3/4 of an acre, off of the south end of the previously mentioned six acres to the City of Dallas. This Warranty deed also stated that this was the same tract set aside by the Commissioners Court for the burial of Confederate Soldiers on July the 20th, 1904 and recorded in Volume 410, page 470. It took a while for this deed to be recorded as it was filed for record on December 5, 1936.
The Confederate Cemetery is maintained by the Park Department. There is a list of all persons buried in this site. The Sons and Daughters of the Confederates take an active interest in this site. A new fence was installed in 1999 to replace the one that had been there for so many years. The measurement of the new fence and the original deed are not the same. This fence was stolen in 2006, nothing left but the posts – later replaced by the Park Department in 2007.
To further impact the six acre tract, a deed was issued to the Pine Street Missionary Baptist Church on June 19, 1939 for a certain piece of real estate. This site was owned by the County and the property had been advertised on the door of the courthouse. This transaction was recorded in Volume 2154 page 9 of the County records. This was a portion of the six acre site. In 1952 the Peoples Baptist Church purchased the property from the Bethany Baptist Church and this is recorded in Volume 3542, page 26.
The Park Department made an inventory of the head stones at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in 1965. Many of those markers listed are now lost or can no longer to be seen. An inventory made in 2002 has stones that were not on the 1965 list although the death dates are before 1965. Newspaper articles are found from time to time that show burials made at this site.
One of the most interesting headstones states that Jane Robinson was born in 1814 and died in 1916 in Dallas. It states further that she was an old slave brought from North Carolina during the war 1861-1864. She was one hundred and two years old.
Another interesting headstone is that of Mrs. E.B. Meeks who was a member of the Daughters of Tabor, a secret insurance company exclusive to blacks only. This stone has a 333 and a 777 along the top and denotes that she was buried by, this organization. The secret organization had an elaborate ritual to be followed for burials.
There are headstones in Spanish, a Confederate veteran, a small above ground crypt and a large marble stone for a minister. The confederate veteran, James E. Waits (1840-1915), was a member of the Mississippi, 86th Infantry.
A story in the paper in 1929, during the depression, describes a family traveling from New Mexico to Kentucky and their small child suffocated in the back seat of the car. The couple was without funds, so the child was buried as a pauper. City employees and others who had heard about this tragedy gathered enough funds so to have flowers at the funeral. The grieving family was very grateful and asked that the flowers be given to the Children’s Hospital. A few dollars were also gathered to buy gas for the rest of the journey to Kentucky where they had family The father had been selling his books along the way to pay for gas. There is no marker or notation for this child. But there is a new marker for a little nine year old girl who died of pneumonia in 1929. This family had also been traveling during the depression; they were moving from Arkansas to California to find a better life. Without funds the family was forced to bury this child at Mt. Auburn Cemetery as a pauper. To add to these sad events, the father died twelve days later in Midland, Texas also from pneumonia. Descendants of this family, who lived near Houston, had been searching for nearly seventy years to find the grave of the child. They finally found a death certificate that said she was buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. They had a beautiful granite headstone etched with a little girl in a swing and brought it from Arkansas to Dallas and placed it under the three large pine trees near the fence adjacent to Oakland. This was a joint memorial for the child and the mother who managed to raise the rest of her children alone in California.
The city/county arrangement did not work very well for this cemetery and it was never fully used. Other pauper/potters fields were established and closed through the years.
Courtesy From the Ground Up, Volume I, by Frances James. Message her if interested in a copy. Three volumes total.