Dawson Lunnon Cemetery is a historic African American cemetery located on 5737 Kemp Street in the East End neighborhood of Houston. The lives of the people buried in the graveyard (also called Rosebud Cemetery, Kemp St. Cemetery, and Leonard Cemetery at various times) span the time periods of Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era and into the early civil rights movement.
Mike Lunnon, a mulatto, was born into slavery in 1830 in either Mississippi or Tennessee and moved to Houston, presumably as a slave, in the 1850s. In 1870 Lunnon, a freedman, bought seven and one-half acres out of the Luke Moore Survey from Houston businessman and developer Rufus Cage, Sr., for $200. Some sources have stated that members of the Lunnon family were formerly enslaved to Cage. By 1877 Lunnon’s household included his wife Margarette Clyberg Lunnon and their seven children, born between 1859 and 1877. Lunnon purchased eleven acres out of the Samuel Williams Survey from John Thomas Brady in 1891. Through the years the Lunnon family and its extended members lived on the land as part of a community that attended school, worked in the region’s growing industry, and met in the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, which was located on the western edge of the current cemetery site. The family grew as two of Lunnon’s daughters married the Williams brothers, Frank and Charles, and both had several children.
Mike Lunnon was among the first generation of freedmen that left an estate to their families. At the time of his death in 1906, Lunnon left to his wife an estate that, when probated in 1909, was valued at $5,000 debt-free—remarkable for a Black man of that time who could not read or write. Lunnon’s oldest son, Dawson (1859–1935), subsequently transferred some of the Lunnon tract to Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in 1914. In 1915 Margarette Lunnon died at age eighty-five and was buried in the cemetery; hers is the oldest extant gravestone in the cemetery. Others buried years later included Cecelia Theresa Yates, Dawson Lunnon, and Henry Lunnon. Near the former church site, the Williams family had its own plot.
The East End community, of which the Lunnons were a part, thrived and grew dramatically with cotton, the Houston Ship Channel and port, railroads, and refineries. The Lunnon tract became absorbed by new infrastructure and an influx of families drawn by jobs in this thriving community. The Mt. Gilead Baptist Church and the surrounding residential community came to its end due to integration, when Blacks moved out of the segregated neighborhood.
Dawson Lunnon Cemetery, which is bordered by Country Club Bayou, essentially became a forgotten cemetery until researcher and historical preservation advocate Virginia Hancock, whose parents had purchased part of the land, took an interest in the graveyard and brought attention to its plight. Largely through her efforts, thirty-five gravesites have been identified—eleven of which have visible stone markers. The most recent known burial is that of Willie Lunnon Williams who died in 1953. For community members for whom money was not available for headstones, lilies were planted as markers, and some, possibly a hundred years old, still grew in the cemetery in the early twenty-first century.
The Texas Historical Commission certified Dawson Lunnon Cemetery as a Historic Texas Cemetery in 2009. Only a small section of the cemetery was visible in the 2010s, with part of one section sold and another overgrown. In 2012 volunteer groups, namely the Lawyers Against Waste Committee of the Houston Bar Association, cleaned up the trash-strewn and overgrown graveyard and marked the site of the former Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church with railroad ties and white gravel. A Friends of the Cemetery association was established in 2013.