Restraining order filed in lawsuit to stop border wall construction near Eli Jackson Cemetery

Local News

In this Feb. 2, 2019, photo, provided by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is the Eli Jackson Methodist Church and cemetery in San Juan, Texas. It is located on a ranch once operated by Nathaniel and Matilda Jackson, a biracial couple believed to have been “conductors” of the Underground Railroad to Mexico. Across Texas and parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, scholars and preservation advocates are working to piece together a puzzle of a largely forgotten piece of American history: a network that helped thousands of Black slaves escape to Mexico. (David Pike/University of Texas Rio Grande Valley via AP)

HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (KVEO) — More than 20 relatives of people buried at the Eli Jackson Cemetery have joined in a lawsuit to stop border wall construction near the gravesite.

On Friday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas heard arguments on whether to approve an emergency temporary restraining order filed from the relatives to momentarily stop Southwest Valley Constructors Co. from constructing the border wall near the cemetery.

According to the relatives, Southwest Valley Constructers are causing damage to the cemetery as well as to the church building and cemetery at the nearby Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery.

The restraining order asks construction to not take place within 500 feet of the cemetery.

The construction company argues in court documents that damages at the site were present before construction began. They state there is no legal reason to halt construction for the restraining order or for the lawsuit in general.

However, the relatives claim the construction near the cemetery violates the Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 19 and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution as they have a property interest in the cemetery that would be harmed by the border wall.

While the court did hear the argument on Friday and faced evidence from both parties, court documents do not show that a conclusion was made on the restraining order.

The Eli Jackson Cemetery and Jackson Ranch and Cemetery are located about a mile from the Rio Grande River in a remote part of Hidalgo County south of Pharr.

Border wall construction is taking place north of the cemetery, which would leave the gravesite in a “no man’s land” facing Mexico. Family members and visitors would have to pass through the wall in order to reach the cemetery if construction is completed.

The ranch was founded in 1857 by Nathaniel Jackson and Matilda Hicks who originally traveled from Alabama. The pair migrated to south Texas to escape the prejudices of interracial marriage found in Alabama.

Jackson used the ranch as a refuge for enslaved people who escaped from Texas or other parts of the south.

When Jackson died in 1865, his son Eli established the location as a cemetery as well. Veterans of the Civil War, Korean War, World War I and II, among others, were later buried at the site.

The Jackson Ranch and Cemetery were certified by the Texas Historical Commission in 1983. The Eli Jackson Ranch was certified in 2005.

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