Greenwood Cemetery

For over a century, Greenwood Cemetery has stood as a final resting place for many Wacoans and as an important marker for city history.  

Established as a segregated cemetery in 1875, Greenwood sits just off of I-35 Business 77. Some of Waco’s most notable African American citizens—including the great baritone Broadway singer Jules Bledsoe, accomplished professor Dr. Vivienne Lucille Malone-Mayes, and Negro League Baseball star Andrew Lewis Cooper—lie in rest there. The cemetery also holds graves for both Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War, as well as a mass grave of victims from the 1918 influenza epidemic during World War I. However, a chain-link fence separated the white and black graves until the twenty-first century. Though no one can remember the origin of the fence, it stood for many years as a harsh reminder of racial inequality.

For much of Greenwood’s history, volunteers maintained the cemetery. The People’s Cemetery Association cared for the black side of the cemetery until 2007, and the East Waco Greenwood Cemetery Association cared for the white side until 2014. Despite the efforts of these volunteers, each association experienced difficulty in securing funds and membership to adequately care for the cemetery. Both associations ultimately voted to turn over care of the cemetery to the city of Waco.

Greenwood has served Waco for more than 125 years and time has taken its toll. Although most people today use gravestones, financial struggles led some families in the past to use wood or random objects as markers, and some did not use a marker at all. The use of materials other than stone led to significant deterioration among many grave markers, making it difficult for families to locate loved ones.

The East Waco community has been calling for the preservation of Greenwood Cemetery for many years. Upon taking full control of the cemetery in 2014, the City of Waco promised to maintain and preserve this piece of history as well as improve it and make it more attractive and safe. In addition to cleaning up and caring for the space, the city pledged to replace a stolen historical marker, create a more attractive entrance to the cemetery, and remove the controversial fence segregating graves.

However, a lack of clear ownership for much of the land in the cemetery and a concern that unmarked graves might exist below the fence delayed its removal. After two years of research and work with the Texas Historical Commission, the City of Waco removed the chain-link fence in June 2016. The posts remain until the city is able to obtain the services of an archaeologist to ensure that unmarked graves are not disturbed by their removal.

Though the removal of the fence represents a move toward unity and preservation, the work is not finished. East Wacoans and park officials are still striving to ensure that a fence enclosing and unifying the entire cemetery is built, a more attractive entrance created, and appropriate signage developed so that the story of this important place in East Waco is not forgotten.

Images

Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery

The city of Waco established Greenwood Cemetery in 1875, and the city divided the land equally into segregated sections by race. The cemetery served as a final resting place for many citizens of Speegleville and Waco, including famed baritone Jules Bledsoe. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Ol' Man River

Ol' Man River

Many notable people are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, including famous Broadway baritone Jules Bledsoe. Bledsoe was born in Waco in 1897, and landed roles on Broadway and in many major operas. He is best known for his performance of “Ol' Man River” in the original production of Show Boat. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Academic Pioneer

Academic Pioneer

Vivienne Lucille Malone-Mayes is another notable Wacoan buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Malone-Mayes was born and raised in Waco. Though she grew up in a society with limited educational opportunities for black women, Malone-Mayes became the fifth African American woman in the nation to earn a doctorate in mathematics. She had a long and successful career as a Baylor University professor and was the first black faculty member at the university. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

White and Black

White and Black

This picture from a 2011 Waco Tribune-Herald article shows the fence that once divided Greenwood Cemetery. In 2014, the city began working with the Texas Historical Commission to develop a plan for the fence's removal. | Source: Waco Tribune-Herald | Creator: Rod Aydelotte View File Details Page

Unusual Markers

Unusual Markers

Not every grave in Greenwood Cemetery has a grave stone or marker. Some families were too poor to afford stone, or the markers they used were stolen or destroyed. Many families used what they had—like this bed frame—rather than bury their dead without a marker. This frame marks the death of an infant in 1918. View File Details Page

Change in Management

Change in Management

For many years, private associations and caring people in the community cared for Greenwood Cemetery. This was a difficult task because it required significant time, money, and effort from volunteers. In 2007, the People's Cemetery Association voted to turn control of the black side over to the City of Waco. The East Waco Greenwood Cemetery Association followed suit in 2014. | Creator: Dalton Strouse View File Details Page

A Step Forward

A Step Forward

In June 2016, the City of Waco began the process of taking down the fence that separated the two sides of Greenwood Cemetery. Pictured are city work crews taking down the fence's chain-link fabric. Removal will require time because the city has to consult archeologists to make sure uprooting the posts will not disturb any unmarked or marked graves that may be located along the fence line. | Creator: Dalton Strouse View File Details Page

Left Behind

Left Behind

Built in 1875, Greenwood's modern surroundings look very different. Now that the city has control of the cemetery, plans are in place for improvements, including signage interpreting the cemetery's history. | Creator: Dalton Strouse View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Dalton Strouse and Amanda Sawyer, “Greenwood Cemetery,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/164.

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