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LSC-CyFair Students Leading Research for Historic Site Preservation of Olivewood Cemetery and Freedmen’s Town for World Registry Nomination

Lone Star College-CyFair students are conducting research in Olivewood Cemetery and Freedmen’s Town for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, which includes only 23 historic sites across the United States.

Brandon Tyler, Chris Gibson, and Lucero GuzmanRutherford B. H. Yates Museum is spearheading efforts to get African-American sites in Texas, specifically along a cultural corridor from Galveston to Houston, nominated for this global listing, which currently includes the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.

LSC-CyFair professor Dr. David Bruner and nine anthropology and history career-track students recently attended a symposium on the World Heritage Site application process with Dr. Jane Landers, a member of a UNESCO International Scientific Committee on slave routes. She is seeking potential sites and places related to the slave trade and slavery to nominate for the registry.

Dr. Bruner and his students, energized after attending the University of Houston symposium with elected officials and a community interested in African-American history, were part of a team of scholars from Texas Southern University and University of Houston. The team worked with the Yates Museum to gather material for the UNESCO nomination application.

Aaron Baker, Kenneth Purcell, and John Gonzalez“Beyond recording a very important part of our history, these students are getting hands-on experience in a historical process (including writing and proofreading components of the application) that will go miles in terms of getting into a graduate program or a job with a research institution,” said Dr. Bruner.

Working with Descendants of Olivewood, a nonprofit that manages the Olivewood Cemetery, students in Dr. Bruner’s historic cemetery preservation course receive Service Learning credit for their research.

Olivewood Cemetery is Houston’s first incorporated African-American burial ground, established 10 years after the emancipation of slaves in 1865. Some of the grave markers in this six-acre cemetery take on a distinctive cultural flavor displaying a combination of religious West African and Anglo-European belief systems with distinctive components, such as ocean shells and metal pipes, Dr. Bruner said. Another unique aspect of the markers in Olivewood Cemetery is the presence of grave markers with reversed script.

“My students are recording all the grave markers in Olivewood with the goal of surveying 100 percent of everyone buried there and creating a database that will be housed at LSC-CyFair and the African American Library at Gregory School,” said Dr. Bruner.

Kyle CooperStudents involved in this ongoing mortuary studies project at Olivewood are learning to use non-intrusive technology, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV or drones) for aerial mapping, a thermal camera that can detect objects in the soil and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) that is used after the camera picks up on possible grave stones just beneath the surface. This equipment was funded through Lone Star College grant money.

Dr. Bruner is also teaching students archaeological survey techniques in Freedmen’s Town, an African-American community that was established after the U.S. Civil War. Freedmen’s Town itself is already a historic district due to intact historical structures and properties with archaeological components. His students, as well as some from disciplines such as history and geography, are using GPR to determine locations for further excavations of artifacts.

“I see all these projects connected - the Olivewood Cemetery, excavations in Freedmen's Town, the UNESCO application - as a means to allow LSC-CyFair students an opportunity to participate in what can be a monumental achievement in historic preservation and a means to give them an advantage in their academic paths,” said Dr. Bruner.

Registration for LSC-CyFair’s winter mini-mester and spring semester are under way. For information, go to LoneStar.edu/registration.