News March 03, 2020 at 04:00 pm

African-American burial site discovered under paved parking lot in Tampa Bay

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

Michael Eli Dokosi March 03, 2020 at 04:00 pm

March 03, 2020 at 04:00 pm | News

Ground penetrating radar was used to detect the 'grave-like anomalies' under the disused asphalt area (marked) owned by the Clearwater and Pinellas County School District

Old graves said to have been part of an African-American cemetery have been identified under a paved parking lot.

Although the cemetery’s name is unknown, city and school officials call it “North Greenwood Cemetery.”

The discovery was made when ground penetrating radar was used to identify 44 “grave-like anomalies.” They were found on an unused parcel of land owned by the school district. The potential graves are just 2.45 to 5.62 feet below the surface.

Cardno, the private archaeology firm hired by Clearwater and the Pinellas County School Board to conduct the search say there are more potential graves to be discovered.

The parking lot is located in a corner of the school land next to disused buildings and had been earmarked for a homeless housing project
The parking lot is located in a corner of the school land next to disused buildings and had been earmarked for a homeless housing project

“It’s an unfortunate situation that America has the history it has and has done very little if anything to make amends for the atrocities of the past. We need to work together to find the answer so all hearts are satisfied in the end,” Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas branch stated.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne now awaits Cardno to get the approval to validate the radar’s findings by digging just close enough near the graves to confirm their existence without touching them.

A report is expected by March ending while residents are consulted as to how best to proceed without offending parties.

 “Now that we’re here we’re here, and it’s how do we best move forward in a manner that serves all parties involved and the community?” Atkinson said.

The discovery site or property was set to be developed by the city, the school district and the Homeless Empowerment Program where the school district leases a parcel just west of the nonprofit’s North Greenwood campus to the nonprofit.

The Homeless Empowerment Program would then build as many as 39 affordable housing units on the lot. Included in the property leased to the nonprofit would be a nearby 1.3-acre lot donated by the city to the school district.

A cemetery was once located in this parking lot next to a vacant Pinellas County School District building in Clearwater. Now ground radar has discovered 44 African-American graves at the site, and more could be found. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

In return, the school district would agree to run the nonprofit’s adult education programs.

With the recent development, Herbic said: “This doesn’t mean that that project has to come to an end,” adding “Maybe we just kind of take a look at our property … and tweak those plans a little bit.”

This is the third time since August that archaeologists have discovered lost African American graves in the Tampa Bay region.

“In August, the Tampa Housing Authority announced that graves from the segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery were still under its former footprint that include five of the public agency’s Robles Park Village public housing apartment buildings plus privately-owned warehouses and a tow lot on the 3700 block of N Florida Avenue.

“Then in November, the Hillsborough County School District discovered that the mid-20th century Ridgewood Cemetery for paupers was still on its King High School campus.”

Newspapers in 1954 reported that, to make room for a city pool and Pinellas High School, the remains of some 350 people from that burial ground were moved to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin.

The archaeology report says there are “numerous disturbances that may indicate areas where burials have been removed.”

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