Van Alstyne History Commission note about the article: We have discovered a tremendous amount of Van Alstyne Black history and have noticed a positive trend throughout our research. It is becoming clear that Van Alstyne, Texas has not suffered as much of the racial division throughout the years, comparatively. We also think the McKinney family were very protective and kind to the ‘people of African Decent’ as they put it, and this kindness has been passed down through the years. If you have any interesting black history of Van Alstyne to share, we would love to hear from you. We are looking forward to learning more!
In 1845, Collin McKinney and his relatives moved to north central Texas. Because he was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 and a member of the drafting committee for the Texas Constitution, Collin was granted land in the area.
His son, Ashley, and his nephew, James, both fought in the Texas Revolution against Mexico, so they also received generous portions of land here. However, James died in 1836 before he could reach home on the eastern border of Texas, so his wife Polly and their children along with the rest of the McKinney family relocated to the area that later became Van Alstyne. Their home was on what became the corner of Austin Street, facing the railroad tracks.
As early as 1846, the McKinney family established a private cemetery when the wife of Collin’s nephew, Hiram Caroll McKinney died. A year later, Collin’s son, Ashley, also died and was buried in the same family cemetery. When Collin McKinney died in 1861, he was buried there too. Therefore in 1871, prior to the establishment of the city of Van Alstyne, James Ashley McKinney, the son of James and Polly McKinney, obviously named for both his father James and his uncle Ashley, deeded four acres for use as a public cemetery. The area he set aside was a short distance east of his mother’s home, specifying that the northeast quarter was set aside for use by those “of African descent.” All of that occurred before the city of Van Alstyne emerged. When the railroad created the depot town, the cemetery lay immediately to the east of the designated site of the city.
In recent years, the cemetery has been enlarged. As land adjacent to the grounds became available, it was purchased to add to the cemetery. Today, it covers about 40 acres. Located east of the railroad tracks and south of Jefferson Street, the Van Alstyne Cemetery is still in use today. Lots are sold by Flesher Funeral Home on FM 121. Each year Mother’s Day is considered “Decoration Day,” and many people visit the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of their loved ones. On that weekend, a tent is set up there, and those who want to make donations for the perpetual care of the cemetery may do so. Those who purchase lots in the cemetery may also join the Cemetery Foundation.
By Becky Seevers | staff writer | The Van Alstyne Leader | Thursday, April 20, 2000