Austin: Community Responds After Black Cemetery Vandalized

By Cesar Lozano

On the morning of September 21, the historically Black Evergreen Cemetery was vandalized with Christian phrases and symbols written in blue paint on fifteen gravestones, including a sideways “8,” likely referencing a Neo-Nazi dog whistle. Community members believe this to be a racially motivated attack by a white supremacist.

Painted on the gravestones were the names “Azreal,” “Samael,” and “Dumah,” all names of angels in Christianity, as well as the words “Extrema” and “H.O” (potentially A.O., as in Alpha and Omega) which also derive from the same biblical tradition. In the US, white supremacists and fascists often use Christian imagery in their racist propaganda.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 23, Tribune spoke to members of the Black Austin Coalition (BAC), who were on the grounds to help the Travis County Historical Commission restore the graves and talk to community members. While the official motive behind this act remains unknown, many of the people interviewed understand this act to be another instance of reaction targeting Black communities and symbols. Several organizers explained that this attack was most likely a response to recent efforts by the BAC to maintain the historical cemetery, which, as one member explained, has been long neglected by the city.

Nook Turner, leader of the organization Jump On It and the Black Austin Coalition, explained that regardless of whether the vandalism was racially motivated or not, “the result is the same—our ancestors got disrespected.” Situating this act of vandalism in the long, racist history of the city of Austin, Turner said, “we were basically forced to be in East Austin.”

Turner explained how the 1928 master plan forcibly displaced Black communities that had grown out of freedmen’s settlements to “the Negro district” east of Interstate 35. He explained the continuity between that historical act of forcible displacement to the city’s ongoing gentrification of East Austin, which is part of the city’s attempts to turn “Blacks into a thing of the past” and said that disrespect of the land of Black Austin’s ancestors is part of the city’s structural disrespect for Black Austin and Black lives.

Last Saturday, a procession with music, flowers, and balloons was held by community members to further show their unity in the face of racist intimidation and desecration of the dead.

This vandalism is a result of the same racist system which has attacked Black workers with mass imprisonment, lynching, and police violence. The desecration of Evergreen, a site representative of Black people’s ancestral roots, is a reminder of the racism and displacement that has been central to Austin’s development as it continues its longstanding assault on Black lives. While reactionaries attempt to violate the dead of Black Austin, the people continue to unleash their anger in the ongoing mass struggle against racism and the capitalist-imperialist system that sustains it.

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