April 26, 2016 - Larry Black Shares Lawsonville History and Miles Cemetery Restoration with TAGHS
Even with the advent of the internet and the ability to search records online, genealogical research is often difficult. African American genealogy is doubly challenging because slaves were usually not identified in the census and birth and death records were seldom kept. San Antonio resident and retired Air Force veteran A. W. “Larry” Black has not been deterred by these challenges as he has sought to learn more about his ancestors, many of whom came to Rusk County as slaves.
A native of Lawsonville, a mostly disappeared community in southeast Rusk County, just north of Concord, Mr. Black was introduced to genealogy by a neice. Mr. Black's father had told him that their ancestors came from Alabama by way of Louisiana in 1857 as the slaves of Benjamin Franklin Miles, who settled near Lawsonville and started a plantation. Mr. Black's research bore this out and revealed the existence of the Miles Cemetery somewhere near Lawsonville, where the Miles and many of their slaves are buried. Mr. Black's brother said that he believed he knew where the cemetery, now located on private property and unkept, was located. Permission was granted by the current landowner, who knew the cemetery's location but nothing of its history, for them to visit the graveyard. Accompanied by the landowner, they eventually came to an overgrown old cemetery, surrounded by an iron fence, about ¾ of a mile back in the woods.
Inside the fenced 30' by 50', plot Mr. Black and his party were excited to find several fine headstones, the largest of which was that of Dr. Albert B. Miles, son of Benjamin Franklin Miles, who died in 1894. Nearby stood a number of other impressive markers, including that of Benjamin Franklin Miles, who had been interred there in 1864. Further searching of the area outside the fence revealed many additional but more modest markers. Some of these bore the names of persons known to have been slaves. Others were unmarked. Mr. Black had a burning desire to see the historical cemetery restored. The landowner, pleased to know who the people who were buried on his property were consented, with the stipulation that no large trees be cut.
That was eight years ago and the Miles Cemetery looks much different today. Mr. Black has made frequent trips from San Antonio, returning to the graveyard and, with the aid of family members and volunteers who must be taken to the site on a trailer, clearing away brush and small trees. 46 graves are now known, 26 with names, and more are being discovered with each visit. Mr. Black says he always offers a prize to the person who finds the most additional graves on each visit and his pride in what has been accomplished is obvious. “ I admire the people buried in that cemetery for what they did in the past. We work there now to honor them and have fun” he says. The group will return to do additional work on October 8 and invites anyone who would like to help to join them. Mr. Black may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
TAGHS meets at 2pm on the third Wednesday of each month in the Meeting Room of the Timpson Public Library, located on the corner of Austin and Bremond streets. The public is invited.