Low-level offenders team with nonprofit to preserve Austin’s cemeteries
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Dozens of offenders may not make up a typical grounds crew, but for Brian Sewell, cleaning up the Bethany Cemetery in East Austin is an alternative to probation.
"I got caught drinking at the wrong time and learned my lesson," he said.
Under close watch by Travis County Sheriffs' deputies, nearly 100 low-level offenders helped maintain the grounds of the historic graveyard Sunday.
The Bethany Cemetery was created at the turn of the 19th century to house the bodies of African Americans. The space was created when the Oak Wood burial ground ran out of space.
Dale Flatt and the nonprofit Save Austin Austin's Cemeteries works to preserve the historic grounds.
"Some of the people that were out here were most likely were slaves at sometime and were freed during the emancipation, then they passed away," Flatt said.
Keeping the graves maintained over the years has not been easy. It takes preserving craftsmanship as well as updating historical records--facts that can give insight into how people lived and died.
"This is considered an orphaned piece of property. There is no true owner for the cemetery anymore. It was established in the late 1800s and over time, when it filled u,p the board of directors basically dissolved," Flatt said.
Flatt said he will take all the help he can get, no matter how the volunteers got there.
"At least we are paying some respect to the dead and cleaning up an area of Austin that needs to be cleaned up," Sewell said.
Save Austin's Cemeteries was established in 2004. Since then, its members have helped to preserve five burial grounds across the city.
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