Austin City Council approves purchase of former Montopolis Negro School site

UPDATE: The Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the former Montopolis Negro School site, and agreed to consider changes to how the city designates historical landmarks.


The City of Austin is coming to the rescue of a little-known local landmark. Thursday, the Austin City Council is expected to direct the city manager to look into buying the former Montopolis Negro School in Southeast Austin.

The city budget for the new fiscal year is already approved, but some on the city council believe the city can purchase the school using funding from another source. Supporters say this historic site is priceless, but that immediately has some taxpayers wondering if we can afford it.

At issue is a wooden building covered in aluminum siding. The sign over the door says Church of Christ, but that’s just what it was in its final years before it was boarded up in the 1980s.

The building and the area have a much longer history. Fred L. McGhee, a local author and historian says, “This community predates Austin and almost became the capital of the Republic of Texas.”

McGhee actually wrote the book on the subject: a history of Austin’s Montopolis neighborhood. He says long before Montopolis became part of Austin it had a county public school for black children from the 1930s until the early 1960s. Now the school’s former students are among those asking the Austin City Council to preserve the building and their heritage. Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria says, “These are the people that actually went to school there that feel their history should be preserved not demolished.”

City council members believe it makes sense for the city to use hotel tax money to buy and preserve this property. Renteria explains, “If we don’t preserve our history then people aren’t going to come and visit us. And that’s what they are. They’re tourists. We’re using tourist money. They want to come and visit Austin. But they won’t come to a city that’s not going to have anything.”

Everyone is reluctant to talk dollars here. But Thursday the council will direct the city manager to find out what it might cost to buy the school to save it from the development that is drawing ever closer.

For more than fifteen years the families of the Bell Town Cemetery have been denied access to their loved ones graves by an adjacent property owner.  This owner chained and locked graveyard entrances to the fence that bordered the property (once thought) to be owned by the adjacent property owner.   This mistake of property ownership prevented the families from entering the cemetery without being accosted, threatened and literally, arrested and  charged  with unlawful trespassing.   

On August 9, 2017 the General Sessions Court  of Cheatham ordered   full access to the road leading to the cemetery.  This delayed egress and ingress was ordered and decreed by the judge along with the order to remove all chains and obstacles that once bond the families from visiting their loved ones.  This restful place  holds both veterans and families members from World War I and II and veterans of Vietnam War included other  deaths that span  from a period of 1883-2010.  

Once the chains were removed, the families were inconsolable to discover tombstones and markers destroyed, toppled and broken.  The  high tattered and torn  grass on the property hid the names on markers that had been marred by vandelism, time and weather.  

Such criminal acts of graveyard desecrations, at best, have now confronted the families with an almost insurmountable task of restorations and repairing the markers once that were shadows of pride and honor that were now found with evidence of shame and desecration.

The family has decided to restore the valor and honor to the gentle men and women who are buried at Bell Town Cemetery.  The restoration of honor to the soldiers buried there will be immeasurable. And, yet this is no small tasks and cannot be done by the families alone.   Whereas, there is no way to regain the years lost in visits and memories, this restoration will began the process of healing for all involved.  The acts of kindness and generosity are immediate. To disturb the dead is a crime but to rebuild hearts is a deed  of humankind.  The acts of uncivility will be restored with acts of love by hundreds of people both known and unknow to the men and women buried in Bell Town Cemetery. 

The funds will be used to : landscape the property that surrounds the cemetery, remove trees, clear trash, debris, mow property, refinish, repair and replace grave markers and tombstone torn down and toppled. 
Pictures will be posted of now and then progress in a linear order as work is completed and  progress made.   

The families want to involve other Gold Star families and veterns in this sacred process. 

Like the men and women of our great nation the dead are those among us who help to share and remind us of the best in all of us.  The families of the Bell Town Cemetery thank each donor in advance for any gift both small and large, both inkind and by individuals.

Conflict of Civil Rights and Civility 

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