EDINBURG - Every year, the City of Edinburg uses Restlawn Cemetery as part of their Juneteenth Memorial Observance celebration, not only as a way to honor the ancestors of the African-American community in the Rio Grande Valley, but to raise awareness about the cemetery’s history and value.
“The majority of people do not know about this place,” said pastor Michael Smith, who is part of the Juneteenth Committee and lead Saturday’s memorial service. “There is an African-American cemetery in Edinburg, it’s just that nobody has lifted it up. We want to make sure that we promote it and get that information across the Valley.”
Formerly known as the “cabbage patch,” Restlawn gained its name in 1993 and is the burial ground of many black families and individuals, two of whom were born slaves and died in free. While many are unaware that it is the only Africa-American cemetery in Hidalgo County, others, such as pastor Smith and Community Speaker, Sabrina Hernandez, see it is a historical landmark and an important part to their celebration.
For Hernandez, the cemetery holds a special connection. After a year of digging through her family history, she discovered that her 3rd cousin Lewis, who served in the air force, is buried at Restlawn. She shares her story every year during the memorial service in hopes to show the significance this landmark has, not only during the celebration of Juneteenth, but every day of the year.
“It means a lot to me,” said Hernandez. “It [Juenteenth] shows the resiliency of African Americans and shows that, despite things that happened that may not have been great, we overcame them. It reminds me of our strength.”
The service consisted of several Community Speakers and keynote speakers such as Mayor Richard Molina, Chair of Juneteenth Sharon Smith, Rev. Michael Smith, UTRGV Student Historian Jillian Glantz, Juneteenth Planning Committee Loretha Laws, Cultural Arts Director Letty Leija, and Cultural Arts Manager Magdiel Castle.
Juneteenth Jubilee will continue with several events next week and will end with a Freedom Walk on Wednesday, June 19th. You can visit ArtsRGV.com for more information.