Oak Hill Cemetery cleanup

Nick Landoski stands with tools in the woods that have grown up around Oak Hill Cemetery in Kendleton. Landoski took a group of volunteers out last weekend to begin work on cleaning the grave sites.

A little more than a week after a former Congressman and several residents began trying to raise awareness about a series of historic gravesites out in Kendleton, several Fort Bend County organizations are making progress on restoring the area to a better condition.

Members of the Exchange Club of Sugar Land joined Nick Landoski at Bates Allen Park last weekend to begin cleaning brush from an historic cemetery, called Oak Hill Cemetery, he said.

“As people are finding out about Benjamin Franklin Williams and his significant accomplishments in the Texas Legislature, we’re getting more interest just because of that,” Landoski said.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Olson first posted about the condition of grave markers in Kendleton during a recent visit to the site of Williams’ burial. Williams was a Republican lawmaker during Reconstruction who served three terms in the Texas Legislature, was one of the founders of the freedmen’s community in Kendleton and is the only Black man who has been nominated to be Texas Speaker of the House.

“I drove down to Kendleton this morning to pay my respects to this Texas hero,” Olson wrote on social media. “I left upset and angry.”

Williams’ final resting place sits a stone’s throw away from the nearby Oak Hill Cemetery, around which a literal forest has grown around about 4 acres of historic cemetery, with some markers containing people born as early as 1827.

Volunteers last weekend cut a path through the trees to give future groups easier access into and out of the area containing the grave sites, Landoski said.

Volunteers also found about five or six additional headstones, bringing the total number identified up to about 15 to 20, he said.

There’s still much work to be done, and logistics to work through before the cemeteries can be preserved, Landoski said. He said he hopes organizers can talk with the county about receiving permission to clean up grave stones.

“This is a slow, methodical process,” Landoski said.

There is conflicting information about who owns the land that Oak Hill Cemetery sits on. A list of cemeteries in the county mentions that it is on private land, while another page doesn’t mention anything about it being on private property, according to Waymarking, a website for historic cemeteries.

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