REGINA is an advocate, writer, Emmy Award-Winning Producer and 2nd great-granddaughter of the oldest unsolved murder mystery in U.S. history
Homes on Cemetery
All my life I’ve heard about how the white man stole my grandfather’s land. Those uneasy whispers shared after the children fell asleep, when they didn’t know we were listening. Those whispered secrets of uttered history, turns out, are true.
Unbeknownst to my mother, the owner of my grandfather’s cemetery, and from research of documents revealed after her death, my grandfather’s land was auctioned for nonpayment of taxes. How could this happen and why wasn’t she aware? And if it was sold, why wasn’t it recorded in the tax records by the new owners. Why?
My grandfather’s land is a cemetery – exempt property, by law! That means exempt from paying taxes. That’s ALL property of a dedicated cemetery, including a road, alley, or walk in the cemetery; and may not be sold on execution or applied in payment of debts from individual owners and plots. Sec. 711.035 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The property is also an historically black cemetery, in which there are federal protections for preserving and memorializing.
Homes Built on Historical African-American Cemetery
The Messy Truth
The only tax records that exist are fraudulent as no property taxes have ever been paid on the cemetery property. A fact made clear from old tax records found in a closet room in the water district building, in another town. Confirming, tax payments were never recorded because cemetery property is exempt.
And with the theft of the land, acreage has been reduced and altered on the assessor’s land survey map to look like altered acreage of cemetery was always that size. The size where only headstones are visible. Not the original size of the cemetery to include unmarked graves, road, alley, or walk in. But this is nothing new. History reveals how black property owners weren’t acknowledged and white real estate investors, property owners, and land developers found new ways around anti-discrimination policies that were created.
In an 18-month investigation, The Associated Press documented a pattern in which black Americans were cheated out of their land. In some cases, government officials approved the land takings; in others, they took part in them. The earliest occurred before the Civil War; others are being litigated today.
The AP also included interviews with more than 1,000 people and the examination of tens of thousands of public records in county courthouses and state and federal archives and documented 107 land takings in 13 Southern and border states.
Because I am a skeptic I doubt everything, and need proof of everything. Always have, and always will. Regina Romain
The true extent of land takings from black families will never be known because of gaps in property and tax records in many rural Southern counties. The AP found crumbling tax records, deed books with pages torn from them, file folders with documents missing, and records that had been crudely altered. The AP also found that about a third of the county courthouses in Southern and border states have burned - some more than once - since the Civil War. Some of the fires were deliberately set.
Today, because of interest in my genealogy and the unlawful new occurrences with my grandfather’s cemetery, I have taken steps to undo a wrong that needs to be made right as I continue to unearth the documents behind those whispered secrets.
My grandfather was denied a voice while living, but not his granddaughter. NOT TODAY! I’m prepared to tell the entire truth. In other words, as descendants are trying to reveal their family legacies, others are trying to cover up ours. My grandfather’s cemetery is not only African-American history but American history. Walter Brown Cemetery is one of the only historic African-American cemeteries still in operation in the state of Texas, where more than 200+ burials lay to rest African American Vets of WWI, WWII, Vietnam, the Civil War, and the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers and others dated back to the 1800’s. Yet, no sign identifies its existence. The sign for “Walter Brown Cemetery” has been long torn down by thieves who try to hide its 16 acre existence among new development and homes that share a fence line with the cemetery. However, the fence line is the cemetery. If the cemetery is not preserved and documented accurately, more property will be lost to development.
My grandfather’s cemetery is also connected to the oldest cold-case in American history. An almost 200-year-old cold case that was never to be solved…is about to.
© 2021 Regina Romain