44 African-American Graves Found Under Florida School District Parking Lot
Ground-penetrating radar has identified 44 “grave-like anomalies” belonging to an African-American cemetery once located on the corner of Holt Avenue and Engman Street, city of Clearwater and Pinellas County School District officials announced Friday.
That unused property is currently owned by the school district. The graves were found on land that is now a paved parking lot.
Additional graves could be found “beneath the footprint” of a Pinellas County Schools building on one of the parcels formerly home to the cemetery, according to the report prepared by Cardno, the private archaeology firm hired by Clearwater and the Pinellas County School Board to conduct the search.
The cemetery’s name is unknown. City and school officials are referring to is as the “North Greenwood Cemetery.”
The graves were 2.45 to 5.62 feet below the surface of a parcel that is owned by the Pinellas County School District, the report said. It is the third time since August that archaeologists have discovered lost African-American graves in the Tampa Bay region.
“The report highlighted the need for continued investigation,” said Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne, who addressed the discovery at a Friday news conference with Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas branch and Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for Pinellas schools.
“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,” Atkinson said. “We need to work together to find the answer so all hearts are satisfied in the end.”
There were plans for that property. The city, the school district and the Homeless Empowerment Program announced in July they would team up for what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind project. The school district was going to lease 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. In return, the school district would agree to run the nonprofit’s adult education programs.
In August, the Tampa Housing Authority announced that graves from the segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery were still under its former footprint that includes five of the public agency’s Robles Park Village public housing apartment buildings plus privately-owned warehouses and a tow lot on the 3700 blocks 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.
Around 300 Zion caskets were identified with ground-penetrating radar and 145 for Ridgewood. Still, archaeologists believe that most of Zion’s more than 800 and all of Ridgewood’s estimated 250 caskets remain in the ground. The headstones were moved but not the bodies.
But hundreds of graves were moved from the North Greenwood Cemetery. 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 city pool is long gone and the school building on the site, behind the Clearwater Intermediate School, is unused and fenced off. The archaeology report says there are “numerous disturbances that may indicate areas where burials have been removed.”
Still, when the other two lost cemeteries were found, the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP questioned whether the Clearwater cemetery’s unmarked graves were left behind.
The ground-penetrating radar conducted from Feb. 6-13 confirmed that there were. Meanwhile, the search for other lost African American cemeteries continues on both sides of the bridge.
Different teams of archaeologists are looking for the St. Matthews Baptist Church Cemetery on FrankCrum Staffing’s campus in Clearwater, the Port Tampa Cemetery on MacDill Air Force Base and the Keystone Park Memorial Cemetery on the Bay Tree Farm in Odessa.