Brendan Farrington | Contributor
Tallahassee, FL (AP) — Florida would create a task force to identify unmarked and abandoned African American cemeteries and make recommendations on how to preserve them under a bill unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday.
Several such cemeteries have been found around the state, including one in Tampa where the local housing authority built apartments above the graves of about 800 African Americans buried in the early 1900s, and a slave burying ground that’s now under a Tallahassee golf course.
“Across the state of Florida such cemeteries called lost are being found,” said Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson. “We cannot continue to run away from our collective history, and we can no longer allow others to rewrite that history, or at its worst, force the history off the pages of time.”
The Tampa Bay Times wrote a series of articles that brought attention to the Zion Cemetery at the site of a public housing development. That prompted local officials to investigate the graves. Also last year, a separate African American cemetery was discovered on the grounds of a Tampa high school.
The bill would establish memorials at the two Tampa sites and would direct the Department of State to work with the University of South Florida and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University to research the Zion Cemetery and identify relatives of those buried there.
“There were those who thought that by building buildings or removing headstones they could obliterate the memory and dignity of a people and families that were buried there. This should never happen again,” Rouson said.
A similar House bill hasn’t received a committee hearing, and the Legislature is scheduled to end its annual session on Friday.