Recently, 50-plus members of the Mu Mu Nu Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., cleaned a large section of the historic Oak Park Cemetery located on 8400 Hirsch Road. The cemetery is currently in dire need of maintenance. Chapter member Don Holloway said his organization was looking for a community project and contacted the Oak Park Cemetery Association, a group of descendants who have family members buried in the cemetery.
The before and after photos of the cemetery reveal the Omegas made an incredibly significant impact in the burial ground’s appearance.
“We are so pleased about the hard work the Omegas put in,” said Debra Blacklock-Sloan, an Oak Park Cemetery Association board member. “And they were very interested in the cemetery’s history.”
Teams were led by Holloway, Chazz Newman and Alton C. Guidry, basileus (president) of the organization. Cemetery preservation veterans Lloyd Prince and Charles Cook of Olivewood Cemetery were also on hand to assist the chapter.
Oak Park Cemetery was established in 1930 exclusively for “Negro Houstonians” by the Oak Park Cemetery Association and the American Trust Company, two white organizations. One reason for establishing the burial ground was to undermine the conditions of existing Black cemeteries and drive traffic to Oak Park. Another was to maintain the segregated system of burials. Yes, racism and the promotion of the myth of white supremacy existed from the cradle to the grave. Literally.
The original burial ground consisted of 40 acres. Oak Park Cemetery Association later sold several plots to a Black minister’s alliance. In 1932, 27 acres in the cemetery’s eastern section were designated as Golden Gate Cemetery.
Oak Park is the oldest-known cemetery in Houston’s Trinity Gardens area. Many well-known educators, ministers, businessmen and veterans are interred there.
“For decades African-American cemeteries have endured blatant disrespect due to commercial construction, encroachment, street paving, illegal disinterment and vandalism. African-American cemeteries are significant sacred places with a unique, cultural heritage and history. It is especially important to preserve, protect, maintain, and identify them,” Blacklock-Sloan shared.
“As more and more African Americans delve into learning their own history it is imperative that the final resting places of their early ancestors remain intact,” added Tanya Debose, another Oak Park Cemetery Association board member. “This issue of erasure is so prevalent across America that national alliances have formed to help support people across America to reclaim, recover and restore African American burial sites.”
The Oak Park Cemetery Association is looking for descendants to assist them with maintenance, documenting and preserving the cemetery. They are also challenging other members of the “Divine Nine” to volunteer, as well. Some members of the AAHGS Willie Lee Gay Chapter have adopted the cemetery. For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/oakparkcemetery.