TEXARKANA, Ark. — The corner of Sanderson Lane and East 35th Street provides more than meets the eye.
Look deeper and important stories can be found. There, where Fair Haven Cemetery stretches across the Arkansas side of town, gravesites tell a story, or many stories to be precise, about the lives of African American residents here in Texarkana.
Founded by the Jones Funeral Home, Fair Haven is one of Texarkana’s historically African American cemeteries.
Many of the people now at rest there may be long gone, but their stories will come to life this Saturday courtesy of the Texarkana Museums System starting at 8 p.m. The TMS will present another in its series of living history twilight tours called “The Talking Dead.”
Reenactors will act as those bygone people, conjuring their lives and telling those stories to everyone on the tour, bringing the past to life before their eyes.
Now it’s the Jones-Stuart Funeral Home that oversees the cemetery, said TMS Curator Jamie Simmons. That funeral home operated for decades from 1914 onward as Jones Funeral Home, apart from a brief closure when John Jay Jones Jr. retired. Jonathan W. Stuart Jr. purchased and soon reopened the business, she said.
“It’s been owned and operated by the same business since 1929,” Simmons said of Fair Haven Cemetery. The land was purchased two years prior to that by John Jay Jones Sr. and his wife Lena Plantevigne Jones, whose family hailed from Louisiana, she explained.
“That area was outside of the city limits at the time they purchased the land, and they purchased so many acres,” Simmons said. It went all the way to the highway and still does. “There’s a lot of it that has not been developed yet and turned into cemetery land.”
The Jones family history will be part of the tour, including Jones Jr. and Lena Jones. “She’ll talk more about the family itself,” Simmons said. “In all, we’re going to have six living history performances.”
John Phillip Crawford attended public schools in Texarkana and served in the U.S. Army with distinction before he established a successful career in law. As someone buried at Fair Haven, he’s another character tourgoers will meet.
“(He) was the first African-American assistant attorney general in the state of Texas,” Simmons said, adding, “We’ll meet some other people buried there that represent that time period right after the cemetery was founded into the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.”
Expect interesting, everyday life stories, she said.
“It’s a small cemetery so the tour won’t be quite as long as some of our others. It is a walking tour but it does have paved walkways,” Simmons said.
The first burial there at Fair Haven, Simmons believes, dates to 1929, noting that the funeral home itself is one of the oldest businesses on the Arkansas side of Texarkana. The funeral home connects not only to the history of those buried there, but also to the couple who started the business itself and local Black business history.
The owner of Jones-Stuart Mortuary, Jonathan W. Stuart Jr., is pictured. Jones-Stuart Mortuary, as Jones Funeral Home, started Fair Haven Cemetery decades ago. (Gazette file photo)
“The Joneses, Sr. and Mrs. Jones, were very active in the state NAACP — they were officers for the state chapter of the NAACP, particularly into the ’40s, ’50s and into the ’60s — prominent business people here in town,” Simmons said. “The Jones Funeral Home is located right in the heart of what used to be a pretty sizable African American community on the Arkansas side.”
That was Laurel Street to 9th and Martin Luther King Blvd., plus parallel streets.
“Those were actually filled with businesses owned by African Americans during this time period, so their business was actually pretty important to all of that,” Simmons said.
No parking will be allowed at the cemetery but nearby parking is available. The tour is wheelchair accessible and starts at the gate facing East 35th Street. Call the TMS for suggested parking or directions.
(Tickets: $15 for the public, $10 for Texarkana Museums System members. Buy tickets at TexarkanaMuseums.org/Events, or call 903-793-4831 or email [email protected] for more information.)
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