The small cemetery plot between a bustling freeway and a retirement home was overgrown with grass and weeds to the point where no gravestones could be seen. Called Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery, the plot is historic, because it holds the graves of former slaves with the last marked burial taking place in 1934.
To preserve the cemetery and its history, Rea Rodriguez and Andy Ash, senior managers at FedEx, helped organize a cemetery clean-up on Saturday, March 10. About 50 FedEx employees came to help.
“The clean-up is in honor of Black History Month and is in memory of the slaves buried there,” Rodriguez said. FedEx will commit to a quarterly clean-up for the year and then re-evaluate the effort.
After the leaves were raked and taken away and the grass was mowed, the gravestones were easily visible again.
Several Irving officials participated in the clean-up, including Mayor Rick Stopfer and City Council member Dennis Webb.
“What’s great about today is the fact FedEx is making this one their priorities, so you can see their employees are out here working,” Mayor Stopfer said. “It makes a big difference when you get a corporate sponsor. They bring their people, and they love doing things. They want to be involved in the community and this is a great effort.
“This is what the city of Irving is about. It’s about different races, different religions, different cultures. It is about everybody coming together to make something happen. Across our city, we have a number of places like this that have historic meaning and value.”
Anthony Bond, who has worked at organizing and participating in clean-up of the cemetery since 1995, gave opening comments about the importance of maintaining the cemetery.
“The people buried here are real people,” Bond said. “They are human beings. They lived just like all of us.”
“Our residents want to extend their gratitude to each and every one of you for your time and your sacrifice,” Doyse Jadlowski, community director for the Senior Living Community of Chateau at Wildbriar Lake, said. “I personally know of six generations, worked with the grandkids, and met the great grandma looking for a grave.”
Early residents of the senior community agreed to work together to try to keep the cemetery site cleared of brush via regular cleanups, however there was no established process.
“We always will open the gate, and help people get there, and not have to park on the freeway, and things like that to try and bring the community together,” Jadlowski said. “We still have a lot to do.
“With a regular quarterly clean-up through FedEx, we will now have the opportunity to come up here safely, and do more maintenance in between, because it’s safer, and that’s huge for me and my residents and the community. FedEx are the only ones who have officially latched their names to this property [for one year]. Other groups would come out once and just be overwhelmed.”
“I would look out here and didn’t see anything, until they started cleaning it up,” Wanda McCrackee, a resident of the senior living community for almost 2 years, said. “It was my thrill of the day to open my curtains and look over here.”
While the clean-up was underway, a group of an additional ten helpers appeared from an organization called Lead by Example. They had heard about the clean-up effort and had driven all the way from Texas A&M Commerce to assist.
“This is a part of history, and it needs to be maintained,” Mahmoud Egal, one of the volunteers, said. “As we will not always be here to help maintain it as we age, it is good to see youth coming in here to help with the clean-up.”
The cemetery is located at 1525 Hardrock Road just off of the PGBT/Hwy 161 and Conflans Road. It may be accessed via the parking area of the Chateau at Wildbriar Lake located at 1515 Hardrock Rd.
St. Mark’s Church in Irving has researched and documented some of the genealogy of those buried at Shelton’s. Visit the website www.St.MarksIrving.org to learn more.
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