Oakwood Cemetery erects monument for 36 reinterred individuals

Oakwood Cemetery in East Austin recently marked a somber occasion with a memorial event honoring 36 people who were buried underneath a chapel over a century ago. The remains were unearthed in 2016 when the city undertook renovation work on the building and have since been reinterred close to the chapel.

“To the 36 souls whose bodies were unceremoniously covered by the 1914 chapel then rediscovered in 2016 and now reinterred here, I’m sorry to have troubled your rest,” Arro Smith with Save Austin’s Cemeteries said during the event. “I hope you have been treated respectfully. I hope you like your new gravestone. Please now rest assured that your sacrifices propelled us 21st century folk to reexamine our past.”

The individuals buried beneath the chapel were a diverse group of African, Hispanic, European, and Asian descent, according to research being currently conducted by the city. They were all interred in a section of the cemetery overlapping with segments that were segregated due to varying ethnicities and social classes.

“We’re not erasing the mistakes of our past. We’re honoring the importance of individual lives, individual people who had dreams at Austin’s creation,” said Austin Mayor Kirk Watson.

Although the remains have now been laid to rest, there is still more work to be done in terms of finding descendants of those buried in the cemetery, including those of the 36 individuals being memorialized. Given the mixed ancestry of the group, it is possible for others buried in the cemetery to share familial ties with the 36.

“I’m really grateful that we can come together as a community to be accountable for this history, it’s a really difficult history, as is most Texas history,” Jennifer Chenoweth, museum site coordinator with Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, said during the event. “We deserve to know our ancestors, and they deserve for us to acknowledge them.”

District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison echoed Chenoweth’s sentiments, stating that the community should make an effort to acknowledge and remember those who have gone before them.

Moving forward, it is hoped that the process of uncovering the stories of the individuals buried beneath the chapel will help future generations understand the importance of acknowledging the past, rather than ignoring it, and learning from the lessons it has to offer.

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