Jammie Simon can point to the tree where the body of his great-grandfather, Minnie Shelton, was laid to rest. But like many of the nearly 200 former slaves and others buried at Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery in Irving, Texas, Simon’s great-grandfather, the former owner of the burial ground, no longer has a tombstone.
Simon said since finding out about his family’s connection with the cemetery in 2000, he’s helped a handful of community members maintain the small and often-forgotten cemetery, including building and placing white wooden crosses where tombstones use to stand.
But on March 10, Simon and those other Irving residents had a helping hand from approximately 50 volunteers who raked leaves, cut the cemetery’s overgrown grass and cleared branches and stumps from the small property off State Highway 161.
“This is in a lot better shape than it’s been in nine years. It’s been amazing that so many people have come out here to help,” Simon said. “I’m glad they have enough respect to come out here and clean it up. It makes me feel like people care.”
Several of the volunteers were FedEx employees who work in Irving. Zelda Celestine, a FedEx Irving operations administrator, said although many of her co-workers do not live here, they saw the cleanup project as a way to give back to the community.
She said the FedEx workers plan to go out to Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery four times a year to help clean and maintain the property.
“It’s just really incredible,” Celestine said. “There are so many people that care ... the teamwork really shows up.”
Anthony Bond, an Irving resident who has worked to preserve the cemetery since 1995, said he was amazed at FedEx’s efforts to step up and care for Shelton’s Bear Creek. He said the turnout on March 10 was even more remarkable to him because he recalls a time when he thought the cemetery would not survive and would become part of the highway.
“They were going to plow right through here,” Bond said. “This is the first part of something. I feel disbelief, unbelievable joy.”
He said the cleanup project was the first step in transforming the burial ground into a location where anyone can come and pay their respects to those who are buried there while learning more about the community’s history.
The cemetery obtained a Texas Historical Marker in 2001, but Bond said the marker had been vandalized and was moved to a more a public location near the cemetery. Bond said he is hoping, however, to have Shelton’s Bear Creek eventually designated as a national historical landmark.
Shane Wolfe, a FedEx package handler, said March 10 was his first time visiting the cemetery. Wolfe, who lives in North Dallas, said he didn’t know Shelton’s Bear Creek existed. He said once he found out about the volunteer opportunity, he knew he had to see it in person and help care for it.
“This is giving back to the ancestors that were here before us,” said Wolfe, 45. “Whenever they are out, I’ll also be out here cleaning.”
Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer also joined the cemetery’s cleaning crew on March 10. He said he was hopeful FedEx’s help would vastly help improve the cemetery, although he said there was still plenty to be done after March 10.
“It will really come together well,” Stopfer said. “But it’s going to take a combined effort to keep it to a high standard.”