Families fed-up over lack of upkeep at landmark local cemetery plan protest

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 4:19 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2020 at 10:06 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Families fed-up with the disrespect they say is being shown to their deceased relatives at a predominantly African American cemetery in Waco, are uniting in protest.

They'll be protesting outside Doris Miller Cemetery Thursday morning over a lack of upkeep which they say has been going on for years.

'It's bigger than grass, it's bigger than weeds--we have family members who are concerned about where their family members are located actually out at the cemetery," said Teresa Mays. "And so we want answers, and the only way we can get answers is to come together as an African American community and show we are serious."

Mays, who lives in the Dallas area but was born in Waco and graduated from Jefferson Memorial High School, has had six relatives buried at the cemetery including her mother, two sisters, an aunt and uncle, and her grandmother.

"Every time we would go visit we would have to pull the weeds to make sure that the headstones were presentable," said Mays. "There was lack if dignity, no empathy, no honor for the grave sites, broken head stones, sunken headstones, broken vases out there, no compassion and no respect."

The cemetery is a "perpetual care" cemetery where families pay a small fee upfront, a promise Mays says, to keep their loved ones graves in decent shape.

Ever since her mother was buried there in 2014, Mays says she's been going back-and-forth with the owner of the cemetery about maintenance and improvements.

"She has replaced some vases, but years went by with no other improvements," said Mays. "It's only gotten worse."

KWTX reached owner Janice Matthews over the phone Thursday afternoon but she declined the opportunity to comment.

Mays says she has filed numerous complaints with the cemetery in addition to elected officials and and state offices.

"She (Matthews) was not holding up their end of the contact," said Mays. "There was no resolution to the problem, so I started complaining and filing complaints to the state."

However, Mays says her complaints fell on deaf ears, so on July 22, she spent $6,000 moving her mother's casket and final resting place from Doris Miler Cemetery and moved to Oakwood Cemetery.

She claims Matthews charged her $2,000 for the disinterment and removed the casket about six hours early.

"We had it scheduled for 2 p.m., but she (her mother in her casket) was sitting on the curb when I got there at 10 a.m.," said Mays. "Unprofessional, uncaring, no empathy, no sympathy, put my mom on the curb as if she was a bag of trash."

The move has given Mays peace for her mother, but not for her remaining family members who are buried at Doris Miller.

She says she's going to keep them there in solidarity with the other families at the cemetery in hopes it will someday live up to the name of the war hero it's named after.

"We want it to be a proud name, we want it to be a proud cemetery, we want it to be beautified," said Mays.

"As an African American community, we should be concerned and want the upkeep of the cemetery and honor his name and his legacy," she said.

Mays organized the protest outside Doris Miller Cemetery, 4800 Bellmead Dr., on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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