A 1933 deed says nonwhite people can’t be buried at IOOF Cemetery. Denton has already condemned it
Denton merchant James A. Smoot donated land off Carroll Boulevard for a cemetery with a sign that now reads the “I.O.O.F. Cemetery, est. 1860.” But there’s no explanation posted there about what the acronym on the graveyard’s green sign means or whom the deed did not permit to be buried there.
The cemetery is named for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization formed originally as a social club by working men in London in the 1700s. A chapter appeared in Denton in 1859, and the cemetery was established a year later, according to the Denton County Office of History and Culture.
As the county history office points out, IOOF’s famed members include Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order’s motto is “Friendship, Love and Truth,” with its mission focused on promoting the “elevation of mankind’s character.”
For the Denton chapter in 1933, though, this mission didn’t seem to apply to local Black residents.
“On the books right now for IOOF’s cemetery, the deed reads: You cannot bury Black — or if it makes you feel better, African American — humans in a city cemetery,” Mayor Gerard Hudspeth told City Council members at a Dec. 5 meeting.
“And no one has tapped on the table. No one has rallied around that. No one has said, ‘Hey! We have to find a solution to that.’ A city-owned cemetery, 2023, in the deed, cannot bury Black humans.”
This year alone, several people of color have been buried at the IOOF Cemetery, according to published obituaries.
City Council members took action in 2016 when they adopted a resolution that declared the whites-only deed restriction was “illegal, unenforceable, unconscionable, contrary and repugnant to the philosophy, principals and beliefs of the city of Denton.”
The ordinance “went on to say that such restrictive language would not be enforced or recognized on any city-owned or -managed property,” Chief of Staff Ryan Adams said last year, after the topic came up during talks about a city nondiscrimination ordinance.
The nonwhite restriction is contained in the 1933 deed in which the IOOF conveyed the cemetery to the city, according to a 2022 report from city staff.
During the council’s Dec. 5 work session, Hudspeth’s comments came in response to council member Brandon Chase McGee’s comment about proposed changes to the city’s ordinances. The city staff has proposed banning the sale of cats and dogs in retail pet stores, in parking lots and along streets.
In response to Hudspeth’s comments, city staff provided more information about how the cemetery deed restriction was no longer valid because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that “racial covenants” on real estate were unconstitutional. Staff also pointed to a 2022 report for the council in which Adams discussed the 2016 council resolution condemning the deed restriction.
The deed transfer dates back to 1933, about a decade after the city forcefully removed Black people from Quakertown, a vibrant Black community located near downtown and a college for white women, which later became Texas Woman’s University.
Today, about 5,800 people are buried in the 22-acre IOOF Cemetery, including original settlers of Denton County and veterans dating back to the Texas Revolution, the Civil War and World War I and II. The cemetery received a state historical marker in 1994, according to the historical marker database.
Willie Hudspeth, a longtime local civil rights advocate and the mayor’s father, said he wasn’t aware of Black residents being buried at IOOF Cemetery.
“They wouldn’t let them,” he said Monday. “It’s why I brought it up to the City Council [in 2016]. But that deed wasn’t changed.”
In a Monday evening phone call, Dalton Gregory, who was a council member in 2016, recalled differently and discussed what transpired in 2016.
“I went out and walked all through the cemetery,” Gregory said. “I’d been around a long time and saw the names of people who were buried there [at IOOF] who are not white.”
Gregory said that like other people in Denton, he had thought Oakwood Cemetery in Southeast Denton was the area’s Black cemetery, but he said it was actually the first cemetery in Denton and didn’t have a deed restriction.
Anybody can be buried there,” Gregory said. “Mostly Black folks are buried there because a bunch of the Black churches are nearby.”
Because of Willie Hudspeth’s activism, Gregory said he proposed creating a resolution to condemn the IOOF deed restriction and point out that the city hadn’t been following it, and that the terms under which the property was transferred were no longer binding.
“At the next meeting, we had a workshop and everybody was happy [with the resolution],” Gregory said. “We made sure that Willie had seen it and read it.”
Gregory said Willie Hudspeth’s actions to raise awareness about the 1933 deed restriction also led to the discovery that voters in the 1930s had passed a 2-cent tax to care for the cemetery.
But what Gregory noticed in 2016 was that the cemetery’s lawn was overgrown, and many monuments were in disrepair.
He said he pushed to have the city start taking better care of it, pointing out that they were “custodians” because Denton had accepted that responsibility when it took over the deed and taxpayers were willing to pay a tax to care for it.
“We don’t spend anywhere near that amount [to care for it],” Gregory said.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Brian Beck suggested that the current council could do something about the 1933 deed restriction.
“I encourage any member of this body who wants to address the point of the mayor, please pitch that point,” Beck said. “I would be surprised if seven people didn’t support that pitch.”