Texas State anthropology to map Black cemetery

Alumni’s family history traced to Fredericksburg during Civil War years

Research & Innovation

Julie Cooper | April 8, 2021

The history of the Phillips family in Fredericksburg is fascinating – and very long. The roots of Dr. Paul Phillips III (B.S. ’77) go back to the Civil War years in this Hill Country town.

The Phillips’ family, who are Black, can trace their line back to 1862 when John Phillips traveled from Louisiana to settle in Fredericksburg. In 1993, his father, Paul Phillips Jr., documented extensively in a 100-page family story, “The Phillips Legacy.”

Today, Phillips III is an orthopedic surgeon who practices medicine in his hometown and lives on land that remains part of the family homestead. He is a member of the Texas State Development Board.

doctor working on paperwork in examine room
Dr. Paul Phillips III (B.S. ’77)

Last year in a conversation with Gene Bourgeois, Professor and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the doctor casually said, “Have I got a story for you.”

This telling of the family inspired the provost to ask the Department of Anthropology to take on a project to map the cemetery for Black people, located on the outskirts of town. Dr. Nicholas Herrmann, professor of anthropology, is working with two graduate students, Adrienne Stainton and Kaylee Gaumnitz. “The work is all above ground, using geophysical prospection including ground-penetrating radar, as well as magnetometry,” he said. “The key is what I view as a training experience for students. We can provide a means of getting a couple of getting our masters-level students, not just mapping experience but also geophysical prospection training in a cemetery.” 

iron arch at opening of cemetery

Der Stadt Friedhof cemetery was established in 1846, the same year Fredericksburg was founded. Today it is a town of more than 11,245 people, mostly known for tourism, German culture, and the vineyards in the area.

While the team made initial visits, Herrmann pursued permits with the Texas Historical Society. One problem is that Phillips III said he has been unable to find records as to who owns the cemetery, which dates from the 1860s. Phillips III said there could be people who were enslaved in the unmarked graves. Until the end of the Civil War, there was a large farm in the county owned by a family who had people who were enslaved.

Herrmann shared a Google map of the cemetery site and points out how there is a clear demarcation between the white cemetery and the area for Black people. “There’s a stone wall that surrounds that section of the cemetery. I don’t know how old the wall is, it’s probably 50 to 60 years old. But some of these graves are well over 100 years old. There are markers and plots and in some cases slabs that cover the graves.”

The goal, Herrmann said, is to map the plots, the markers and “also do geophysical prospection of these open areas, as well as within the walled area to look for unmarked graves and see if we can identify them.” The team, he explained, will be looking for different indicators (or anomalies) from different lines of evidence then combine those different layers to see if they can get an idea of where there might be some unmarked graves. The team will also use drones to map the area from above – and look back at historical photos of the area. They will submit a final report to the Texas Historical Commission.

dr phillips with two family members
Dr. Paul Phillips III (far right), retired U.S. Army Reserve, is shown during a deployment to Haiti in 2011. <i>(Photo Credit: U.S. Army)</i>

The doctor said he took over this challenge because he has four children. While his father had detailed their early family history, there is so much that is not known. Books about Fredericksburg’s history do not include details about the Black families who settled there.

“Segregation was real in Fredericksburg. If you worked and fit in, they didn’t bother African Americans,”  Phillips III said.

While a small school and church were built in the 1870s for Black families, Phillips III and his siblings went to Catholic schools because they were not allowed to attend public schools until the early 1960s. For Phillips Jr. and his siblings, this meant living in San Antonio with other family members to attend school.

Following World War II where he served in the Pacific, Phillips Jr. was a member of the initial class to graduate from the Tuskegee University School for Veterinary Medicine, the first such school for Black people. He returned to Fredericksburg to serve the community along with two white veterinarians. 

Phillips III attended Texas State on a football scholarship, majoring in education and pre-med. He was a free agent with the Baltimore Colts in 1977, but his career ended with an injury. After completing medical school and residency he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps until 1994. His service included deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Africa, and Haiti. In 2018 he retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve. Phillips III is a Texas State Distinguished Alumni and a member of the Athletics Hall of Honor.

His wife, Dr. Brenna Nance, is a pediatric emergency specialist. The family returned to Texas in 1995. Two of their children are Bobcats. Paul VI (’04), is an orthopedic surgeon; daughter Jordan (‘16), attends The University of Texas School of Law; daughter Noell is a social worker; and Steven is a mechanical engineer.  

“The question has always bothered me: Are there other African American people buried in that cemetery that either had a pile of rocks or wooden crosses and these markers have disappeared?” Phillips III asked.

There may other questions that the Department of Anthropology can answer.

“Hopefully, the Department of History can get involved. What we can provide is this initial documentation and mapping, get the names of the individuals, and combine it with Dr. Phillips’ history,” Herrmann said.

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For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922