Fort Bend County announced on Monday a $4 million investment for the creation of a new African-American Memorial at a park in Kendleton, southwest of Rosenberg. The community was one the first freedmen's towns in Texas – founded by freed slaves in the 1860s.
Part of Bates Allen Park will be redeveloped, including the preservation of two historic black cemeteries and a memorial to honor Fort Bend County's sometimes-forgotten African-American History.
Fort Bend County is one of three counties in Texas with official accounts of lynching and African-American history that range from accounts of lynching, slavery, convict-leasing and the establishment of Freedmen's Town and the first-ever Black elected officials.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Dexter L. McCoy said creating the memorial allows people to learn about untold history in Fort Bend County.
"We have a really unique opportunity here in Fort Bend to tell the full story about the Black experience in this country," he said.
The site will include a series of trails, one that will connect the two Black historic cemeteries, Newman Chapel Cemetery and Oak Hill Cemetery to a Juneteenth Plaza reflection pond, a 3-story tall monument, and potentially a learning center.
"For our team, this is about nonrenewable assets in our community," said Daimian Hines, the architect and founder of Hines Architecture and Designs. "We need to preserve them, we need to celebrate them, and we need to pay reverence."
Hines said he wants his design to help people pay tribute and understand the African-American history that lies within the county.
"We hope that our contribution – you will find value and we're trying to create a place that allows you to celebrate again, pay reverence, and tell the story about freedom here in Fort Bend County," said Hines.
McCoy said he first visited the two cemeteries last year from an invitation by former Congressman Pete Olson who and others were cleaning up the cemetery sites that day.
"When I walked out there, and saw there were trees growing in places where people were laid to rest, tombstones had been knocked over, broken, completely desiccated – it broke my heart," he said.
McCoy said conversations about a memorial started when the former Commissioner wanted to create a memorial in Sugar Land and he was able to pick up where that Commissioner left off in creating this memorial.
Darryl Humphrey is the Mayor of Kendleton. His great-grandparents are buried in one of the historic cemeteries. He said he's grateful that the project is going through.
"I just want to thank everybody and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to stand in front of this beautiful crowd here, all the representatives and all the people that would help make this project come into fruition," he said.
The announcement of the funding was also to honor Benjamin Franklin Williams, a former slave and the first elected Black State Representative in Texas – who died in February 27, 1886.
Commissioner McCoy said he has a vision for the memorial and it's going to take more funding to really invest into the memorial and hopes it can be as prominent as other African-American memorials across the country.
“This is going to be something that people will travel the world to see if we do this correctly," he said.
The first phase of construction is expected to get underway this year. In the coming month, Fort Bend County will announce public engagement sessions to allow for community input on what type of programs or events they would like to see at the memorial site.