Historical African-American park undergoes renovation in McAllen
Nestled away on the corner of 16th Street and Booker T. Avenue in McAllen is a plot of land that has stood the test of time.
The Historic Bethel Garden Park is a sacred part of American history in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Around 1942 the City of McAllen designated that area, at that time it was called the Booker T. Washington addition," Hidalgo County Historical Commission Member Valeria Goerlitz-Ramirez said. "That was the first that African Americans could purchase property."
A small group of African Americans bought the land and moved their church there. The area became a safe space for worship and cultural gatherings during the Jim Crow era.
According to the city of McAllen the site was the predominant school and church of the African American community. Students were bused in from cities across the region to attend school during the week and were bused back to their communities during the weekends.
"It's good to know the history and to honor the people who made sacrifices for the advancement of everyone," Goerlitz-Ramirez said.
Years later when the church was demolished the empty plot of land became an illegal waste site as people began dumping trash. That was, until volunteers came together to maintain it and eventually the city stepped in and renovated the property.
"It was a shame," McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said. "It's a historical site, a designated historical site. It just needed some tender, love and care."
The site is located in the heart of McAllen and now showcases an art mural, native plants and historic signs telling the story of Bethel Gardens.
"We want people to take it for their own, to really make it their own," Theresea Gatling, co-founder of Village in the Valley said. "This is a part of our history here in McAllen. It will go on forever into a legacy."