Pyland African-American Cemetery – a beacon of hope in a world gone wrong

founder-of-black-rootsBy Gha’is A. Lateef

County was formed and Jefferson was established as the county seat in 1860. By the end of the decade, Jefferson and Marion County was firmly established as the center of Ku Klux Klan terrorism and general lawlessness. It has been reported that on a daily basis, the newly freed Blacks were whipped, robbed, driven off the plantations, and sometimes whole families were murdered.

 
Hangings, house-burning, assassinations and robberies were common-place, and those charged with upholding law and order were unconcerned about the plight of the freedman. All around “you will hear of fresh murders and violence”, wrote a correspondent from Sulphur Springs in 1869. An exerpt from that article reads: “… The civil authority is powerless- the military insufficient in number, while hell has transferred its capital from pandemonium to Jefferson, and the devil is holding high carnival in Gilmer, Tyler, Canton, Quintman. Boston, Marshall and other places in Texas.”

 

The list of terroristic cities and town does not include nearby Avinger, Texas. Prior to the Civic War, churches and schools in the Hickory Hill-Avinger area were integrated, and cemeteries were joint ventures. Hickory Hill Cemetery, Mims Chapel and Pyland Cemetery are examples of the practice.

 
In the Hickory Hill-Avinger area Blacks were not victims of cross-burnings, lynching and ill-treatment suffered by freedmen in surrounding cities and towns. What accounted for the relative harmony and lack of racial strife in this area? Author Fred McKensie, who lived virtually his entire life in the Hickory-Hill-Avinger area, said in his book, Avinger Texas, USA, that the racial harmony “Stems from the kind of people, black and white, who settled the area in the first place”. Both races were Christians by nature and upbringing and thus were prevented from “being too diabolical in their actions toward each other”. Hickory Hill is an old pioneer settlement located about two miles south of present-day Avinger, and was established on land granted by the Republic of Texas in 1848. Though this general area would later become known as “Pyland, Texas, a satellite community of Avinger, the town lies in Marion County and is now known as Lassater.

 

About two miles North of Lassater along Hwy 49 is a burial site called Pyland African-American Cemetery, and it is situated just behind Pyland Cemetery. Pyland Cemetery was established for the Pyland family and community by John D. Pyland in 1877.

 

The black and white families interned in the two Pyland Cemeteries, are prominent among the early settlers and freedmen of Marion County. These two racial groups were primarily responsible for much of the racial harmony that existed in the area. And many of them lived in Lassater-Hickory Hill, an as far south as Kellyville.

 

Marion County was a “conduit for frontier Texas”, and the earliest interments in Pyland African American Cemetery, were among the black pioneers who migrated to the area with the slaveholding planters from the Deep South and the border states of Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. John D. Pyland was among the incoming slave-owners, and first came to Texas in 1859 when he bought a 500-acre tract of land where the city of Arlington now sits. In 1862 John D. Pyland swapped the property in Arlington, for a 500-tract of land in Marion County, Texas, land on which the two Pyland cemeteries are located.

 

Had John D. Pyland not exchanged the property in Arlington, today his decendents…

(To continue reading this article, please contact us today for a print or email subscription to the Jefferson Jimplecute! — (903) 665-2462, JIMPLECUTE1848@GMAIL.COM)

 

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