The remains of about 200 unidentified people were laid to their final resting place Thursday, more than a decade after their First Street Cemetery gravesites were disturbed in 2007 for an expansion of Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
“This makes me feel great relief, because while this is never our first choice to move bodies, this was our last option,” said Nesta Anderson, the lead archaeologist for the reinterment. “This was the city’s last option, so knowing they are in a perpetual care cemetery that will always be maintained brings a lot of peace.”
A large crowd of civic leaders gathered at Rosemound Cemetery for a ceremony and reburial.
First Street Cemetery Committee Chairman John Wilson said the work with the city and the city-appointed First Street Cemetery Memorial Advisory Committee has brought closure.
“We are really trying to bring to closure something that has been going on for us about five years, but something that has been going on for the city for much longer,” Wilson said. “Some of these members laid the foundation of Waco. The sad thing is that this should have never happened, but now we can all work together to set things right.”
Research and documentation of gravesites has shown that most of the now reinterred remains are of black people, though remains of white and Hispanic people are also in the group, said Anderson, a senior archaeologist with Pape-Dawson Engineers who led the excavation and research efforts.
The people likely came from families with a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and only one body, an infant, was found without a container, she said.
“We are thinking the 1880s to 1920s is the time period of burial for the majority of the individuals,” Anderson said. “There are definite indications that these were not paupers and they did have a strong community around them.”
A feeling of a strong community is what led the Rev. Willie R. Stanley to become a member of the First Street Cemetery Advisory Committee, he said. He has relatives among the unknown gravesites, Stanley said.
“My grandmother and great-aunt were exhumed and moved to Greenwood Cemetery, but I am certain that some of my past relatives were also buried in First Street Cemetery that were unearthed in the expansion,” Stanley said. “With my family members being moved and relocated today, I feel like they were treated with dignity.”