AUSTIN, Texas - Back in 2017, Austin city employees discovered human remains, possibly of multiple people, buried underneath a chapel inside Oakwood Cemetery in East Austin. At the time, the city was beginning to renovate the chapel.
“My heart stopped when I heard that in 1914 a chapel was built on top of graves because I'm sure at that point people knew that there were graves in that particular section of the cemetery. So the lack of humanity hit me at that point,” said Ora Houston, back in 2017.
Dr. Fred McGhee is a local archaeologist who has been studying Oakwood for some time.
“The chapel is not original to the cemetery, it was constructed in the early 20th century. Bond financing was used, and then they found bodies,” he said.
Since the discovery, the city says they have sent the remains to Texas State University to be tested. At this time, the remains are sitting in a lab and they are waiting on results that can possibly provide a little more about who these people might have been. McGhee says it is likely these people were slaves.
“White Anglo cemetery administrators during that time felt not only that it was acceptable or justified but desirable to locate buildings such as this, right on top of black burials, they didn't matter anyway. It was fundamental disrespect. These people need to be put back into the ground as soon as bioarchaeological work has been completed,” said McGhee.
McGhee feels the process should not have taken this long, but he hopes the city can give those found under this chapel a dignified resting place soon.
“Austin is not short of money, it's a question of priorities,” he said.
He believes black history is part of Austin’s history.
“History is important, no matter whose history it is. The history of individuals and racial and ethnic groups helps illuminate the hole,” said McGhee.
The city said test results should be in by early to mid-next year. There is no word on where the remains will be placed afterward.