DAYTON, Texas (AP) — A fence that for decades divided two historic Houston-area cemeteries into plots for white people on one side and black people on the other has been taken down.
A white 85-year-old maintenance volunteer, Henry Buxton, in April dismantled the chain-link fence that divided the Linney Cemetery from the Acie Cemetery in Dayton.
The change came after Mike George took over as new president of the Linney Cemetery, where white people are buried. He saw the division as inappropriate and inefficient.
“It should have been done years ago,” George said.
Rodney Edwards, who is a resident of the historically black community of French Settlement, agreed.
“It shouldn’t have ever been that way in the first place,” he said.
The fence was a vestige of a deeply racist history, said Walter Buenger, Summerlee Foundation Chair in Texas History at the University of Texas.
“It just shows you the extent of segregation,” Buenger told the Houston Chronicle.
Now, the separate associations that ran the two cemeteries are merging to send a message of unity and to strengthen their ability to care for the space.
Lynda Young, who ran Acie Cemetery where black people are buried before the merger, said that when she saw the fence come down it felt like freedom.
“We can move forward,” she said.
Buxton, whose parents and brother are buried in Linney, said he was taught not to say “yes sir” to a black man or open the door for a black woman.
Several residents, black and white, said they simply were used to the fence. It was like everything else with segregation.
“You’ve lived with it all your life and you’ve accepted that,” said Dwain Atkins, who recalled staying at the school for black students when he had the choice to move to a white school.
“That was the reality,” echoed Clarence B. Jones, a former adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. who has written about black cemeteries across the country.
Whitney Stewart, assistant history professor at the University of Texas in Dallas, studies present day segregation in cities.
“People are very willing to continue living in the same kind of segregated world,” she said.
“It should be applauded that these physical barriers are finally coming down, but then how do we . bring it forward to other important areas of life, whether it be housing or economic inequality?”
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com