Historic Black cemetery with 300 veterans has been neglected, activist says
As Dr. Jamal Rasheed walks through the Prince Hall Fraternal Cemetery in Waxahachie, he sees a lot of history.
With approximately 300 veterans buried in the historic Black cemetery and a recently constructed veterans monument, he also sees a lot of honor.
But far too often, he sees a lot of neglect. So he’s asking for the community’s help to change that.
The Prince Hall Fraternal Cemetery was founded in the late 1800s and is located at E. Jefferson and Finley streets.
Rasheed, president and executive director of the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame Museum and Library, said between 3,000 and 4,000 people are buried at the 5-acre cemetery.
He said many of them are veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War – all branches of the military.
But he said those who are buried there have been forgotten, in part because many of the headstones have fallen into disrepair.
“To me, it’s disrespectful to those who are here,” Rasheed said.
He said the biggest problem is the headstones over time have sunken into the ground.
“You can’t see when they died, you can’t see when they served,” Rasheed said. “Just the top of the headstone.”
He said in many cases the headstones were poorly placed.
“They put some of these on top instead of in the front where it’s more solid,” Rasheed said. “That caused it to sink.”
As Rasheed continues walking down the path he sees other areas that need attention. Some headstones are facing the wrong direction. Others are crooked.
“When it’s crooked like that you can tell that someone just set it there,” Rasheed said.
Others are leaning.
“They’re supposed to be straight up at attention,” Rasheed said. “Not leaning over or crooked.”
The conditions of the headstones don’t match the efforts the community has made to honor the veterans at the cemetery.
A memorial that includes military flags and plaques was constructed at the cemetery in 2019 to honor the veterans buried there, and the Waxahachie Police Association donated a statue.
“We built the monument to recognize everyone who is here,” Rasheed said. “The next thing is to make sure we know where they are. And the only way is to have the headstones.”
Rasheed, who is also a veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force from 1976 to 1977, said it’s important to tell the story of those who are buried in the cemetery, including the veterans. For example, within feet of each other are the headstones for one family – James Tatum, James E. Tatum, Elihu Tatum, Cohen Tatum and Eddie Lee Tatum – who represents service in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Rasheed said he goes to the cemetery twice a week to maintain the site. He said this is his mission because the responsibility has to belong to someone.
He manages the cemetery but said ultimately the family of the veteran has to be the one to reach out to Veterans Affairs about caring for the headstones.
“But a lot of time their family is deceased or have moved and not been here since their loved one was interred here,” Rasheed said.
Rasheed said the community has already begun helping restore the cemetery. He said local Boy Scout troops help raise headstones, beginning on the cemetery’s north side and making their way to the south end.
Rasheed said individuals who are performing community service have also helped in the effort.
“Without the community support these veterans’ headstones will go further into the ground,” Rasheed said.
Rasheed said it’s unclear how many veteran headstones need attention, but he said it’s too many.
“There are a number of these that need fixing because this cemetery doesn’t get the recognition that it should,” Rasheed said. “And there are a number of veterans out here.”
Those wanting to volunteer to help restore the cemetery can contact the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame Museum and Library at 214-980-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ecaamuseum.org.