Kansas City, Mo. Descendants of people buried in five homestead cemeteries near Kansas City International Airport are fighting the city's attempts to relocate the graves to make way for economic development.
Some of Platte County's earliest settlers are believed to be buried in the cemeteries scattered throughout 7,000 acres of vacant city-owned property around the airport.
The city is scheduled to seek a court order in Platte County Circuit Court on Dec. 10 to start moving the graves in four of the cemeteries to a 5-acre site. The fifth cemetery was removed from the plan after a title search revealed that the city does not own the land where the family cemetery of William Hoy, a 19th-century pioneer, is located.
Aviation Director Mark VanLoh said the city would not attempt to relocate that cemetery until the area is ready for development.
One of the cemeteries the city wants to move is on a 300-acre site that contains family members of pioneer Waller L. Brightwell.
A developer had wanted to start building a motor sports park this year on the land near North Brightwell Road, but the project is delayed because of the court case.
It was believed that an unmarked slave cemetery was located near the Brightwell cemetery. But city officials say a recent archaeological dig turned up no evidence of slave graves in that area.
Still, Olin Miller, a Platte County insurance agent whose ancestors are buried in one of the cemeteries, believes that any remains at the slave cemetery likely have decomposed. He said the site has rows of red rocks that were used as slave headstones.
"I still firmly believe that there is a cemetery there," he said.
VanLoh said the dig should prove to the court that it's time to start relocating the cemeteries - especially because a different archaeologist who was hired by the city for the relocation has tested the soil and also didn't find evidence of graves.
He said the city has been planning to relocate the graves for several years and will handle them with respect when it does.
"People think we can just go in there carte blanche and build over those graves, and that is completely false," VanLoh said. "There are federal laws that we must adhere to in preserving these graves."