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Thousands of African Americans who gathered here to start a new life after the Civil War. In the following years, they built a buzzing neighborhood of shotgun style homes, lively churches and saloons described like “the devil’s rest stop on Earth.” They called it Freedman’s town

This area of Dallas County was settled by former African American slaves shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War.

Freedman’s Cemetery, a graveyard for African Americans, was established in 1869 on one acre of land purchased by trustee Sam Eakins.

 Another 3 acres was acquired for cemetery purposes in 1879 by trustees A. Wilhite, Frank Read, A. Boyd, T. Watson, George English, Silas Pitman, and the Rev. A. R. Griggs, a former slave who later became a prominent local church leader and champion of early public education for the African American community.
The community of churches, commercial enterprises, and residences that had developed in this area by the turn of the 20th century was by 1912 a part of the City of Dallas.

Back in the 1920s, Dallas City Planner George E. Kessler purchased The Houston and Texas Central Railroad (H&TC) and the Texas and Pacific Railroad (T&P), which ran through the heart of Freedman’s Town.

Construction of the Central Expressway through here in the 1930s virtually eliminated all physical above-ground reminders of the cemetery.

By the 1940s, the railroad and the homes of 1,500 African Americans were replaced by the city’s first freeway. When plans to expand the freeway 50 years later, in the 1990s, were disrupted by the discovery of a body, the city realized they had paved over an acre’s worth of Freedman’s Cemetery.

The one-acre plot of land purchased in the 1800s to bury residents of Freedman’s Town overflowed with graves. Even though the railroad established a 200-foot right of way, the freedman community buried the bodies, sometimes one on top of the other, beyond the right of way limit. When the highway department purchased the right of ways from the railroads, it was not expecting to be met by over 2,000 graves, many dating back to the Emancipation era.
Descendants of persons buried here and the City of Dallas agreed in 1965 to establish the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery at this site.

Representatives of the community worked with the City of Dallas and the Texas Department of Transportation to preserve the historic Freedman’s Cemetery site prior to highway expansion.
Sources: Historical Marker Text (1993); The Daily Campus, SMU & SMU-TV (2013)

By: Darwin Campbell