The city is partnering with “Loving Houston,” a faith-based initiative that aims to revitalize some Houston neighborhoods with the help of volunteers. All week, volunteers are tackling about 100 different projects in Acres Home, Independence Heights, Fifth Ward, Denver Harbor, Third Ward and Sunnyside.
A special project is at Olivewood Cemetery, Houston’s first incorporated African American graveyard located in the Heights. Graves here date back to 1865, but it’s in dire need for clean-up.
Margott Williams is the founder of the Descendants of Olivewood. For the last five years, her group has been working on restoring the cemetery. It was completely overgrown by weeds and bushes and has fallen victim to vandalism and erosion. About half of the 7.5 acre property is still overgrown, so Williams says she’s excited about the help from the initiative.
“They will be in the back moving a lot of the debris into the gully area, the trees and the brush in the gully area. It will be a more greener way to addressing the erosion. And they will be working on the top part of the erosion where a lot of the remains have been washed away.”
Mayor Annise Parker says she has long eyed the cemetery and has tried to direct resources and volunteers to the restoration effort for years.
“We have a problem across Texas about abandoned historic cemeteries. People will die, go away, and they’re no longer kept up and they get overgrown and they become prey of vandals. This cemetery is really a stone throw from downtown Houston, it’s one of the most historic cemeteries in Houston.”
She says the “Loving Houston” project is a good opportunity to bring attention to the cemetery, especially since it’s a faith-based initiative. It was started by the Union Baptist Association but many other churches have since joined the effort.
Tom Billings with UBA says this week is just a concentration of projects with an increased call for volunteers.
“But about 15 or more projects have already been completed. Almost all of those have been in Sunnyside. Many of them because of church schedules will not be done until later in June, so this is going to go on for weeks.”
Projects range from beautification to home renovations and handing out information on city services and resources.