Breathing Life into Historic Slave Cemetery Forges Lasting Friendship

Bear Creek Cemetery2

Squeezed between State Highway 161 and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a small, overgrown and nearly forgotten piece of land called Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery.

It’s the resting place for an estimated 200 former slaves and what brought Frances James and Anthony Bond together.

“That one has been knocked over,” Anthony said as he pointed to a headstone. “That one has been knocked over too.”

Frances knows many of the names etched on the headstones by heart.

“Well,” Frances said. “The Dalworth’s. The King’s. The Lawson’s.”

In 1995 Anthony was the president of the Irving Chapter of the NAACP and heard about a slave cemetery. He was taken there only to find a torn down fence and cattle grazing in between tipped over headstones.

It was a heartbreaking sight.

“I literally fell down on my knees and I cried like a baby,” Anthony recalled.

He heard many voices that day all crying as one.

“And I keep hearing it every time I come here,” Anthony said. “I heard it today. Anthony, don’t let people disrespect our final resting place.”

Soon after Anthony met Frances who is affectionately known as “The Cemetery Lady” because of her encyclopedic knowledge of historic Texas cemeteries.

The two worked to get a Texas Historical marker for Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery.

Anthony met Frances when she was 73–in a few days she’ll be 91.

Former skeptics are now like family members.

“At first when Anthony would bring me some of them still looked at me, what’s this white woman doing here?” Frances recalled. “What is she going to do to us?”

Anthony said the cemetery has survived a close call with the freeway, a DFW runway and because of a new senior living center next door access and maintenance is more difficult than ever.

But Anthony says it’s still here–courtesy of divine intervention.

“When I think of Miss James,” Anthony said. “I think about an angel. I really do, sent from heaven to do exactly what she was put here on earth do to.”


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