You learn the most about a place when your travel plans go awry and you are hungry, lost, and treading where no other tourist would ever go.
We started out reasonably enough, climbing in the airport shuttle to find breakfast and catch the train into Dallas. But the shuttle driver— a kind man in his late sixties who works 7 day weeks and 12 hour days, (including Easter morning) offered a short cut. He would drop us at the transit station where buses run straight into town.
As we rode the driver acted as our tour guide, as though we were driving through an area of interest and not the ugly backside of an airport/hotel nexus. He pointed to a pile of sheet rock in an abandoned field.
We passed a raft of empty town houses. “New structures going up everywhere.”
He pointed to the other side of the street. “See that palace? New Senior Housing.”
In the middle of all the new developments was an older run down housing project, and beyond that, a bit of wild land — a gorgeous spring-green piece of East Texas thicket.
“This guy refuses to sell. He’s got a bunch of goats in there and a black donkey that herds them — protects them better than any guard dog. Once a feral hog tried to attack his goats. The donkey killed him!”
We should have known.
The parking lot at the bus stop was empty, save for one lone bike. But the driver insisted the bus would come. He had already disappeared by the time we read the sign: no services on Sundays.
On the two mile walk back, we passed the thicket, hoping to get a glimpse of the donkey.
“Look like you are hungry enough to eat a goat. Maybe the donkey will come out to shoo us away.” I said.
I AM hungry enough to eat a goat. Been hungry since we got on the plane 15 hours ago.” Dave said, trying not to sound irritated.
“Hey this is just like the bike trip.” I said. “Look out for a good story.” We laughed, showing each other good humor that was part real and part feigning. The tickets for this impromptu trip to Dallas were cheap, but still a luxury. We were feeling an obligation to HAVE FUN.
As we passed an older run-down housing development we noticed something improbable. Something we had not see in the van. Something the driver had not mentioned.
Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery the historical marker read.
African Americans came to this area as slaves of white settlers …
After the civil war [they] stayed in the area and formed a large settlement. In 1879 Minnie Shelton purchased 80 acres including this site and the Shelton family donated the land for use as a cemetery. …. Buried here is] Elizabeth Lawson… Her stone bears the insignia of the Fraternal Organization of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor.
According to Portland, Oregon, blogger Jasper Wilcox, The Knights and Daughters of Tabor began as a militant Black underground anti-slavery organization. After the Civil War they funded Black hospitals and encouraged their members to buy real estate to build Black capital.* The daughters of Tabor in Texas bought real estate in downtown Dallas and saw to it that the Black community had a dignified final resting place. However..- as the historical marker notes:
Access to the burial ground has often been restricted and regular maintenance was difficult in the 20th century. A Cemetery survey in 1970 found that there were 12 legible headstones and over 200 burials on the site….
The historical marker was put up at the cemetery in 2001 – a demand of local activists. In 2013 that new senior housing palace was built,boxing in the cemetery.
The struggle for access and preservation of the cemetery continues.
*Mississippi Knight of Tabor Theodore Roosevelt Howard was a friend and mentor of Medgar Evers. He founded PUSH — that organization that came to be associated with Jesse Jackson — in 1971.