January 16, 2007
Local Developers John And Judy Saracco Donate African American Cemetary To Galveston Historical Foundation
Rosewood Cemetery, Galveston’s first burial ground designated exclusively for African Americans, founded in 1911, was donated to Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) on December 27 by local developers John and Judy Saracco.
“We are so happy to be the recipients of this generous donation,” said Alice Gatson, chair of Galveston Historical Foundation’s African American Heritage Committee. “It is so gratifying to be able to claim this important piece of our heritage and to honor those who are buried there.”
The cemetery was part of an eight-acre parcel of land at Seawall between 61st and 63rd streets that Saracco purchased in the early 1980s. Since then, a Comfort Inn, Super 8 Motel, Waffle House and Beachcomber Inn have been built on the property that surrounds the cemetery. The cemetery sits directly behind the Comfort Inn off 63rd.
Knowing when he purchased it that the property he planned to develop contained a burial ground, Saracco says he had the land fully surveyed for graves before development began. He then had the cemetery fenced so the graves would not be disturbed.
411 graves are listed in records as being located at Rosewood. Today, markers exist for only around 20. The last known burial date is listed as 1944.
Raymond Lewis, a member of the initial Rosewood restoration committee along with Betty Massey, Carl Kelly, Melvin Williams and Recy Dunn, and now vice president of Galveston Historical Foundation, says the foundation has a number of plans it hopes to implement for the cemetery. First, the grounds will be fully cleared of brush and overgrown vegetation. Greg West Tree Service has offered to donate its services to that end and has already begun its work. The city is donating its services to haul the debris away. The Texas Historical Commission has already officially designated the burial ground as historic, creating a protection for the property requiring that it always be maintained as a cemetery.
Over the course of the next several months, the African American Heritage Committee will begin developing a master plan for the cemetery’s restoration, says Lewis. Plans already discussed include stabilizing existing tombstones, partnering with local archeologists to excavate sunken stones, creating a marker recognizing the donor of the cemetery, and creating a memorial that would include all the names of those whose graves are now unmarked. The committee has also discussed landscaping, benches, and open days with guided tours.
The cemetery was established in 1911 by a group of African American citizens who organized themselves as the Rosewood Cemetery Association. The association purchased the land from the Joe Levy Family and 86 shares were divided among 26 shareholders. Churches, associations, societies and individuals, including the Wright Cuney Lodge, purchased the shares. The first person buried was Robert Bailey on February 1, 1912, and the last burial was Frank Boyer on June 29, 1944. The original cemetery was approximately eight acres in size. Today, all that remains, a space a little more than an acre in size, is what has been donated to GHF.
On September 7, 1945, one of the shareholders sold 19 shares to Thomas Armstrong. In 1957, Armstrong purchased the remaining shares of the Rosewood Association. Upon Armstrong’s death, his estate sold the property to Saracco, the person who has now donated the cemetery to GHF.
“My wife Judy and I are honored and delighted to make this donation to the historical foundation,” said Saracco. “We have been working out how to make this happen for a long time and we are so happy that it has finally come to pass.”
“It is very unusual for a historic preservation organization to become the owner of a cemetery,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of GHF. “But it is a progressive idea. By doing this we are able to recognize the cemetery as sacred grounds for the families of those buried there as well as a valuable part of the cultural landscape for the whole community.”