EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Restlawn Cemetery in Edinburg is a historic burial ground that was established in 1928 and is believed to be the only graveyard in Hidalgo County dedicated for African-American burials.
“It was a cemetery designated during segregation, so it was a self-care cemetery. And throughout the years, there has been many people involved that have brought attention to that cemetery, and they’ve organized an annual cleanup,” says Edinburg Cultural Arts Assistant Director Magdiel Castle.
For decades, Restlawn Cemetery seemed to have been forgotten as thick, overgrown brush covered the entirety of these grounds.
It wasn’t until 1993 when the community of Edinburg made it an annual tradition to not only clean this burial site every year, but to restore its history and its ties to those who live here in the Valley.
Castle says, “Mr. Lewis Callis was one of the initial people who were instrumental in bringing attention to the cemetery and the cemetery cleanup. He was a World War II veteran, and he was actually Edinburg’s first black post-mailman, and so we’re honoring his memory by doing some service to the community on Martin Luther King Day.”
As part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service, the community gathers each year to clean the site, repaint fences and crosses, replant flowers, and most importantly, mark rediscovered graves.
This has allowed people like Sabrina Walker Hernandez to earn about significant and undiscovered parts of her own family history as well as her relation to Lewis Callis.
Sabrina Walker Hernandez, who happens to be Lewis Callis’ third cousin, tells Valley Central, “I moved to Edinburgh in 2005, and so I became active in Restlawn probably right around that time. At one point around the cemetery, they had up signage about the people that were buried here. I remember actually having the time to go and look, and I saw ‘Lewis Callis’, born in Freeman. I’m from Freeman, Virginia, my grandma was a Callis, what’s going on here?”
Hernandez says prior to her visit in Restlawn, she had no idea of her relation to Callis or that they both moved from Freeman, Virginia to Edinburg, Texas for the same reason – the military.
“You would not think that two people from that part of the world would end up in the same area in the valley. It was really amazing,” Hernandez adds.
Although Hernandez never had the chance to meet her late relative, Lewis Callis, she says she is grateful to the community for their efforts in restoring Restlawn Cemetary.
She says that without their service, this significant part of her family history would be lost.