The Marfa cemeteries. Credit: Mary Walling Blackburn
Just off Route 90 in Marfa, TX are three cemeteries, divided by fencing — and race. Though racial segregation seems like a dated practice in West Texas, the separations between whites and Hispanics are still visible among the departed.
In the borderlands of West Texas, intermarriage is hardly rare. But in death, people remain segregated. One cemetery is known as the Anglo cemetery. The other two — Cementerio de la Merced and the Marfa Catholic cemetery — are Hispanic.
“This is the Catholic cemetery. It’s the first Hispanic or Mexican cemetery,” says Alberto Garcia, assistant librarian at the Marfa Public Library. Garcia walks through rows of tombstones and makeshift crosses adorned with colorful silk bouquets, about one hundred feet from the railroad tracks.
On the other side of the fence is the Anglo cemetery, full of well-groomed, grassy plots. But the divisions here aren’t just aesthetic. It wasn’t too long ago that racial segregation was once a way of life in Marfa, Texas.
“Well, it was not legally segregated, but it was segregated by custom,” says historian Lonn Taylor, a former curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. According to Taylor, before the 1970s West Texas had separate schools, barber shops, and churches. Even movie theaters had their own unwritten rules about where to sit.