The Grave in the Middle of the Road: A Strange Texas Tale

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Tony Maples Photography


A drive through Texas usually means fields of livestock, maybe cows or horses, a cotton field or two, and of course, the occasional cemetery. They’re particularly easy to see in the South Plains, where the land is flat, so cemeteries stick out like a sore thumb! Most of us aren’t used to seeing cemeteries in residential areas, though, particularly cemeteries that consist of only one grave! That’s what you’ll find if you ever venture to Hearne, Texas, and with this lonely grave is a story of family loyalty and civil rights.

The Grave in the Middle of the Road: A Strange Texas Tale

Photo: Facebook/Elyse Harlow

The cemetery in question was referred to as Hearne’s Colored Graveyard. It was a cemetery specifically designated for the African American community, probably as far back as the 1800s, because slaves were supposedly buried here. The only remaining grave is the resting place of Hollie Tatnell, a woman who was born into slavery in Texas. She was buried in this specific spot in 1911.

However, in 1947, real estate developers bought the land that the cemetery was located on and required surviving family members to exhume and rebury their loved ones. The only ones who refused were Hollie Tatnell’s children, Georgia and Andrew. As other African American families relocated their ancestors and left the neighborhood, Georgia and Andrew Tatnell stood firm that their mother’s remains would stay in her original resting place. Developers were eager to continue work, so rather than continue fighting, they decided to leave Tatnell in peace and build around her.

The Grave in the Middle of the Road: A Strange Texas Tale

Photo:  Facebook/Elyse Harlow

Now, Hollie Tatnell rests in the middle of the street, under an oak tree. Her grave is marked by her original tombstone and an additional marker placed there by her children. In 2007, a sign from the Texas Historical Commission was placed over Tatnell’s grave, making the median a Historic Texas Cemetery, even though it consists of only one grave. The last line of the historic marker reads, “This single grave serves as a reminder of the area’s early African-American community and of the sanctity of burial grounds.” If you’re ever driving by Hearne in Robertson County, be sure to stop by and give Hollie Tatnell your respects.