Historic black cemetery in south Liberty County being reclaimed

Linda Jamison, county chair for the Liberty County Historical Commission, leads the ceremony for a dedication at Abshier Cemetery in Hankamer for the cemetery being named a Historic Texas Cemetery on Saturday, April 13, 2019. She now is working to restore the Redmond Fields Cemetery on FM 563 near Moss Bluff.

By Vanesa Brashier, editor@bluebonnetnews.com

There is nothing to see now at the Redmond Fields Cemetery on FM 563 at CR 140 near Moss Bluff in south Liberty County. The headstones that marked the graves of Liberty County’s earliest black settlers dating back to 1880 were bulldozed in the 1960s, leaving dozens of graves unmarked and the stories of the people buried lost to time.

Though there is no way to undo the damage, the Liberty County Historical Commission is taking steps to ensure that the graves are undisturbed and the cemetery is preserved for future generations.

“Starting in about 1960, the cemetery was recognized as a one-acre cemetery with no metes and bounds. The title for the land was passed from the previous owner to the next,” said Linda Jamison, chair of the Liberty County Historical Commission.

According to Jamison, the cemetery headstones were destroyed by a previous owner who did not want black people coming onto the land and burying their dead.

“Someone took a bulldozer and destroyed the cemetery. They took the headstones off and buried them someplace. They took the fence down and built a barn to block the road coming into the cemetery,” Jamison said. “They destroyed that cemetery and those poor people couldn’t go in there and visit their relatives who were buried there.”

Among those denied access to the cemetery was Warren Deblanc. In an affidavit Warren wrote in 2010 at the age of 84, he shared his grief over not being allowed to visit his mother’s grave. His mother, Bettye Julius Deblanc, died on Aug. 6, 1933, when he was just an 8-year-old boy.

The affidavit was collected by Dayton attorney Bob Ford, who, at the time of this death a decade ago, was trying to help the descendants of those buried in the Redmond Fields Cemetery. The surnames of those buried at the cemetery include Washington, Julius, Flimons and Braxton, among others.

“There is no way to identify who is buried there, or which grave contains a particular body,” Deblanc wrote in the affidavit. “It was wrong to block the road to the cemetery. It was wrong for the barn to be built in the road. It was wrong for the grave markers to be removed. It was wrong for the graves to be plowed over and left unidentified. I have no way of knowing where my own mother’s body is buried now.”

Deblanc said that a historic cemetery that had existed for more than 100 years should have been respected.

“Some of the early graves were of people who had been slaves, according to family history I remember hearing,” he wrote.

For years after Ford’s death, work on reclaiming the historic cemetery went dormant. Then one day as she was going through the cemetery listings on the Texas Historic Cemetery website, Jamison saw Redmond Fields Cemetery listed and recalled that Ford had mentioned the cemetery to her before after a genealogy meeting held by the LCHC.

“I looked at the site but it didn’t show anything, so I called Mr. Ford’s son a couple of states away to see if they had kept any of these records, but they said the records had been destroyed,” she said.

Knowing she would most likely be unable to find deed records for the cemetery because of a fire that destroyed the Liberty County Courthouse in 1872, Jamison enlisted the help of a friend and surveyor, Roy Fisher. With his help, she was able to find some deed records that had been recorded by Tarver Abstract in Liberty.

Jamison had another stroke of luck when she spoke to friends with the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Cemeteries project.

“She had Bob Ford’s file. He had sent them everything. Had Mr. Ford not sent the records to them before his death, then we would not have anything to go on today,” Jamison said.

Deblanc’s affidavit was among the records Ford had collected and sent to the Texas Historical Commission.

On Tuesday, June 11, the Liberty County Commissioners Court took the next step in reclaiming the cemetery by formally accepting the gift deed for the cemetery from its current owners. County Attorney Matthew Poston is helping to complete the transfer of the one-acre tract to the county.

“Judge Jay Knight and all the commissioners have been very helpful. They realize the importance of preserving the county’s history,” Jamison said.

Once the land transfer is final, Jamison said the next step is to clean up the property and seek designation from the Texas Historic Commission to recognize it as a Texas Historic Cemetery.

“We have a volunteer who has offered to do ground-penetrating sonar. She has agreed to come out and use the sonar on the property to see if we can locate the graves,” Jamison said. “Hopefully we will be able to determine how many people are buried there even if we may never know who they are.”

In his affidavit, Deblanc expressed his desire to see the cemetery reestablished and restored.

“We want the grave markers and headstones returned by whomever stole them. We want the location of each grave to be marked. We want the cemetery land to be surrounded by a strong fence and we want an all-weather road to the Redmond Field Graveyard to be constructed such as we used to have before that barn was built in the road,” he wrote.


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