The story of a community can be found in its cemetery.
With that in mind, some Fort Worth residents are working to revitalize the historic Lake Como Cemetery, started in 1925, to share their history, culture and heritage. They hope to educate their neighbors and others in the community, as they renovate the cemetery and make people more aware of its value.
A criminal justice professor at Prairie View A&M University recently was the first person buried at the Historic Lake Como Cemetery in 10 years, and those who run the cemetery hope more people choose to bury their loved ones there. The graveside service was Sept. 6 for Ronald Server, a professor for more than 30 years at the university.
In the late 90’s, a Zion Missionary Baptist Church representative who would minister the funerals died. As a result, funerals at the historic cemetery became less frequent.
About four years ago, the Como neighborhood advisory council reactivated the Lake Como Cemetery Association, Elouise Burrell, a Como community leader, said. As far as the council knew, no burial services had been conducted at the cemetery since 2011, and no process was in place for more to occur.
“And a lot of young people weren’t really aware of this cemetery,” Burrell said.
During the past decade, records were lost because no one had taken over the cemetery operations. To bolster the cemetery, the neighborhood council recently applied to the Texas Historical Commission for a historic marker and received that designation.
“We did a lot of research on the last audit that happened, I believe, in 2003,” Burrell said. “We went back to research all of the records that are online, because when a woman passed, unfortunately we believe her family members disposed of the records at her home and so we don’t have physical records.”
Although there aren’t physical records, an audit that was conducted years ago is online, active and available to anyone.
“With that information, we went to an online site called family search and researched every name that was on that list and pulled up their death certificates, the cause of death that was on their certificates,” Burrell said.
The committee also created a database of all the people it had on record of being interred. The database tells what race or ethnicity they were, the cause of their death, whether they were slaves or not, and other information used to create the database.
To continue the upkeep of the grounds, the cemetery association also formed two committees: a lawn care service and a Women’s Auxiliary Beautification and Hospitality.
Marcus Hudson is the owner of the lawn care business called Lawn Bandits, and he is also the president of a leadership group called Legacy, a young men’s activism group that handles the grounds maintenance. The Women’s Auxiliary Beautification and Hospitality group is led by Patsy Graves, who is a Como volunteer and resident.
“Along with other women volunteers from the community, they have been decorating the cemetery for certain holidays,” Burrell said.
They select and decorate certain holidays, particularly, Mother’s Day, Veterans Vay, Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
This year, the group chose to decorate on the Fourth of July and Juneteenth.
“Juneteenth this year was quite a decoration experience,” Burrell said. “Last year, because of COVID we weren’t able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Lake Como parade …”
Instead, the community had a yard decoration competition. This year, the parade returned in full force with decorations, flowers, liberation colors, Fourth of July colors and more.
Ronald Server’s burial was possible because his family owned several lots as part of a family section.
“We had an interest for someone else who wanted to bury one of their loved ones at the cemetery, but because of the loss of records and information we weren’t really sure if there was any vacant space,” Burrell said.
The cemetery association has been using a ground penetrating radar to determine whether any remains are under the ground where there is no headstone. The process costs about $5,000, so funds are being raised to complete the process and make another service possible.
The association’s next step is to create a master plan for the cemetery and further engage the community.
Because of the pandemic, the cemetery association’s planned fall celebration of the historic marker’s designation will be sometime in 2022. In addition, the association is working with the nearby Como Community Center and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance on repairs and upgrades to the cemetery.
“There’s quite a few things going, lots of developments with the association of the cemetery, and we’ve even recently had a community volunteer who is interested in helping us restore markers,” Burrell said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Lonyae Coulter can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.