Renovation Of Once Forgotten Black Houston Cemetery Taking Shape

A nonprofit group is finally making some headway in its effort to turn College Park Cemetery into a park.

For years, College Park Cemetery on West Dallas Street in Montrose was abandoned and forgotten. If you walked by it, all you would see was trees and brush.

Then one day in 1998, Robert O. Robertson worked with juvenile probationers to clear some of the brush just opposite of their building.

"So we began to cut in and we found it was a cemetery here," he said.

Robertson is the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. He said when they found the cemetery, they made it their mission to clean it up.

"As we began to work in here, I found Jack Yates, realized he was a pastor of our church," Robertson said. "And so, that kind of really excited me."

Jack Yates was a former slave, who founded Bethel Baptist, was the first pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and helped create Emancipation Park.

Jack Yates High School in the Third Ward is named after him.

He is probably the most famous inhabitant of College Park Cemetery, but it houses a number of notable African American Houstonians who died between 1897 and 1972.

Robertson's church purchased the land and five years ago the College Park Cemetery Association was founded.

Mark McKinnon, a landscape architect, is the group's president of the board.

"We can see all four corners now," he said. "We've lifted the branches of the trees so you can see through. You get a much better sense of space."

He said once a month volunteers spend a day mowing the grass and cleaning up. The goal of the nonprofit is to create a park.

"Historically, cemeteries were the traditional Sunday promenade," McKinnon said. "People would go to the park, or the cemetery park, and walk and/or picnic – perhaps visit their family members who were interred there."

The restoration process is slow-going as the group is trying to raise about half a million dollars.

But they have made some progress this year. They have started building a drainage system and a new road with shell surface.

The cemetery is already turning into an amenity with more people taking their dogs on walks on the new green space.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required


Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

More Information