1300 Court St, Houston, TX 77007
**Olivewood Cemetery has been included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2022.**
Olivewood Cemetery is filled with many rich, diverse cultural and religious traditions and is considered the final resting place of some of Houston’s prominent African Americans. The cemetery was established by Fourth Ward residents in the late 1800s as a burial ground within the Houston city limits for formerly enslaved men and women and their descendants.
The cemetery demonstrates a variety of West African spiritual traditions and symbolism. Some of these traditions include backwards or inverted orientations of letters carved on the tombstone; broken dishes and jars placed on the tomb to deter spirits from returning to their previous homestead; and upright pipes and seashells as a means to connect the world of the living with the world of the dead.
Olivewood Cemetery is threatened by erosion, vandalism, and rapid plant growth. Water runoff from neighboring commercial establishments has resulted in flooding and the loss of grave sites. Tombstones have been broken and are in need of repair. The cemetery’s proximity to the bayou has caused rapid plant growth that damages and covers the tombstones and gravesites.
There are still living descendents that are connected to those buried at the Olivewood Cemetery. These people and others of the community volunteer their time and energy into the preservation of this site. Unfortunately, due to the current condition of the site, the lack of funding, and the rapid rate of erosion, the site is endangered.
Visit Olivewood Cemetery’s Facebook page.
The Official Texas Historical Marker at Olivewood Cemetery reads as follows:
This cemetery served the early African-American community in Houston for approximately 100 years. The Olivewood Cemetery Association incorporated in 1875 and purchased 5.5 acres of this property that same year from Elizabeth Morin Slocomb. The organization bought two adjacent acres in 1917. Also known in its early years as Olive Wood, Hollow Wood and Hollywood, it is one of the oldest known platted cemeteries in the city. The original 444 family plots comprising over 5,000 burial spaces were laid out along an elliptical drive. The burial ground contains several hundred marked graves, in addition to an unknown number of unmarked graves. Interred here are pivotal leaders of Houston’s post-emancipation African-American community, including the pastor of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rev. Elias Dibble; businessman James B. Bell; Alderman and landowner Richard Brock; attorney J. Vance Lewis; educator James D. Ryan; physician Russell F. Ferrill; and dentist Milton A. Baker. Also buried here are ex-slaves, laborers, sororal and fraternal organization members, and military veterans. This cemetery features obelisks, statuary, curbing and interior fencing. The burial ground also includes examples of pre-emancipation burial practices, including upright pipes (symbolizing the path between the worlds of the living and the dead), ocean shells as grave ornaments and text containing upside down or backwards letters (as used in some West African cultures to signify death). Today, Olivewood Cemetery remains as a key historical site in Houston, serving as a testament to the foresight and perseverance of the cemetery founders. Historic Texas Cemetery – 2006