Located in the city’s historic Fifth Ward, this cemetery founded in 1887 by Alexander Kelley, a formerly enslaved person and entrepreneur, is one of the oldest African American cemeteries in Houston. Before its conversion into a cemetery, this land is believed to have been a cotton plantation. Those interred at Evergreen Negro Cemetery include enslaved people, Buffalo soldiers, and World War I veterans, with burials dating from 1887 to 1950. In 1960 the city of Houston extended Lockwood Drive, bisecting the cemetery and displacing 490 bodies. Following this disruption, Evergreen Negro Cemetery entered a period of decline and became overgrown with invasive vegetation.
Surrounded by sidewalks, a gas station, and private residential backyards, today the 5.58-acre cemetery sits on two lots with no fences or other border demarcations. A city sign indicates the location of the cemetery at the intersection of Lockwood Drive and Interstate 10; however, beyond this there is no official signage or wayfinding for the cemetery. As no public entities are charged with the cemetery’s management, local volunteers have taken on the cemetery’s stewardship, including mowing and tree planting.
An east-west allée of crepe myrtles runs through the center of both parcels, visually reuniting them and attempting to bridge the disruption caused by the extension of Lockwood Drive. Gravestones of varying materials and styles lie in an east-west grid, some dislodged or overgrown over the years. A number of the gravestones feature white and blue tile lettering indicating the names of family plots. This material and color palette is common to historic cemeteries in the Houston area. A chain symbol engraved on select gravestones, including founder Kelley’s, signals a formerly enslaved person, while markers for veterans’ graves often list their dates of active duty. In the 1990s, the local nonprofit Project RESPECT and nearby university students began efforts to revitalize the cemetery. Evergreen Negro Cemetery was designated a “Historic Texas Cemetery” by the Texas Historical Commission in 2009.