New projects at Arlington cemeteries aim to resurrect interest in past leaders, local communities
Two separate efforts in historic Arlington cemeteries seek to link visitors to the city and Tarrant County’s past—literally.
O.K. Carter is an author, historian and holds a seat on the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission. The former Arlington Star-Telegram publisher has published essays and produced YouTube videos on local history.
But even with his extensive experience in city history, Carter says finding historic graves near downtown remains a hassle.
“Every time I come here, I have to rediscover where things are,” Carter says.
Arlington Cemetery at 801 S. Mary St. is a city-owned property that holds several cemetery sites, some of which are as old as the original town, and more than 2,000 graves. The site is the final resting place for nine mayors, several postmasters, war veterans and original settlers. A partial list of the interned reads like an Arlington roadmap.
“If you drive around Arlington, you’ll see it, looks like street names—Collins, Cooper … Abram. All of that, those people are here,” Carter says.
Also on the list is Mary Street, which was named after Mary Carlisle Cravens. Her husband, Dr. M. H. Cravens, smoothed the foot path to the cemetery with his tractor to visit her grave. The path became her namesake street.
The commission (LPC), after mulling navigation difficulties with Carter, named the gravel roads that connect the cemetery after some of the most notable buried historical figures and are developing QR codes to install at a couple dozen sites.
“I expect people to eventually be jealous and put their own QR signs up,” Carter says while standing near George Finger and Weeks ways.
People behind another site two miles south has a similar idea in the works.
The Arlington Heritage Memorial Grounds Corporation (AHMGC) plans to install QR codes in its multi-cemetery site around the 600 block of West Arkansas Lane. The site holds three cemeteries: the Mill Branch Cemetery, the Middleton Tate Johnson Family Cemetery and the Arlington Colored Cemetery. The site, between 1900 and the 1950s, was the only place where Black families could bury their loved ones.
Fundraising efforts to install QR codes and pathways are the latest in decades efforts to pay homage to the people buried, including Johnson, known as the founding father of Tarrant County, and nearly 80 known graves of Black and African American residents.
“It’s been an ongoing project and now it’s really come into its own. It’s going to be a great tool for education,” says Geraldine Mills, the society's executive director.
In 2000, the society removed cabins that had been placed atop the graves of Black people. Arlington Historical Society built a list of the interned and constructed an ornate fence around the property—as well as fundraised for repairs when a drunken driver drove into the gates and damaged several gravestones in 2021.
Arlington Historical Society members took control of maintenance and cleanup in the 1980s after decades of different philanthropic groups leading piecemeal cleanups.
Mills, who is also an AHMGC board member, says she expects progress to be made on the paths and codes in the next six months. Volunteers have also made constant progress on finding more information on those buried onsite.
“It’s a great attempt at connecting history and connecting people in this town because … everybody contributed in some way,” Mills says.
Cataloguing local history
The research Mills and the Historical Society are doing has filled in substantial gaps in the archives of Arlington’s Black history over the past couple of decades.
Mills’ work to collect records and stories from The Hill, Arlington’s segregation-era neighborhood specifically dedicated to African Americans, was instrumental to the ongoing docuseries “Echoes from the Hill.” The first episode aired Juneteenth weekend, and four new episodes will air over the next four years.
Carl Pointer, one of the interviewees on the first episode, brought an extensive list of family members to the Historical Society that were buried in the African American cemetery.
Mills says interest in Arlington’s broader history—including its Black history—has picked up recently, as people and communities reckon with their past. She says the current climate offers a time for learning and healing.
“I think that’s what they’re seeing this as, is realizing the struggle that a lot of these people that are buried out there had through years, but yet they continued through faith in their religion, faith in their family and learned from one another. They were community and contributed greatly to Arlington’s growth,” Mills says.
Arlington’s growth has made capturing history difficult at times, Carter says. The town grew in half a century to become the 50th most populous city in the United States.
“Most of that growth takes place after 1950, and so what you have is a city that all of a sudden switches over the next half century from less than 8,000 people to more than 400,000,” he says.
Additionally, around half of residents had a different address a decade ago, Carter says, as people look for convenient places to settle down and commutes to Dallas and Fort Worth.
“Even though the town is growing all the time, Arlington’s mid-cities location is just so ideal for access to all the jobs in the Metroplex that people can come and go,” he says.
However, that will not stop local historians from cataloguing local history, he says.
“It’s … a fairly straightforward situation. Read signs, QR codes; history comes alive again,” he says.
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