A rusted fence surrounds a tombstones at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Portsmouth, VA. Many Black Americans excluded from white-owned cemeteries built their own burial spaces, and their descendants are working to preserve the grounds.
AP Photo/Steve Helber
- The remains of 328 likely graves have been found from “relocated” Black cemeteries in Florida.
- The graves were meant to be moved in the 1950s but were instead simply paved over.
- The city of Clearwater is reckoning with its history of racism, CBS News reported.
The remains of 328 likely graves have been found paved over after bodies in supposedly “relocated” Black cemeteries in Florida were never actually moved, prompting the city of Clearwater to reckon with its history of racism and segregation.
Graves from two cemeteries were meant to be relocated in the 1950s to make way for the construction of a swimming pool and department store but were paved over instead, CBS reported. Ultimately, a school and office building were built atop some of the graves.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the cover-up began to be revealed. In 1984, O’Neal Larkin, now 82, watched as a construction crew dug through one of the “relocated” Black cemeteries — though any exhumation of the graves would not occur for nearly 40 more years.
“I remember the parking lot where the engineers — traffic engineer was cutting the lines through,” O’Neal Larkin told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, “and they cut through two coffins. That was my first knowledge of seeing it because I walked out there, and I seen it myself.”
In 2019, reporting by the Tampa Bay Times about the history of paving over Black graveyards resulted in the city of Clearwater exhuming the two desecrated sites in town.
With help from an engineering services company called Cardno, CBS reported, the North Greenwood Cemetery and St Matthews Cemetery were identified using ground penetrating radar and mapped, and some of the graves were exhumed. Of the 550 graves listed in the cemetery records, 328 likely graves — many under the parking lot of an office building — were identified. Additional remains are likely underneath the office itself and beneath a school building where human remains were found.
“All of the information and the data that we collected does indicate that there are additional burials likely below the footprint of that school building,” Erin McKendry, an archaeologist for Cardno, told 60 Minutes.
Representatives for the City of Clearwater and Cardno did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about the project.
Though forgotten grave sites such as those in Clearwater are found across racial and socio-economic divides, experts have identified that cemetery desecration appears to occur more frequently and systematically in the sacred resting places of minority residents. Other such graves have been found of indigenous students who died at government-run boarding schools in the US and Canada.
“There are abandoned cemeteries across the board,” anthropologist Antoinette Jackson, who leads the African American Burial Ground Project at the University of South Florida, told CBS. “There are cemeteries that are not only African American cemeteries or Black cemeteries that have been in some way desecrated, but the issue is more acute with Black cemeteries because of issues like slavery, segregation in which this particular community were legally and intentionally considered lesser than or marginalized by law.”
The City of Clearwater remains undecided in how to navigate the exhumation of the bodies beneath the office, parking lot, and school building, though several residents have told CBS and the Tampa Bay Times they prefer to see the cemetery restored and memorialized.
“It is still a cemetery — period,” Barbara Sorey-Love, a Clearwater resident who has no family buried in the desecrated graves but has friends who do, told the Tampa Bay Times. “That road should be closed. All the cemetery land should be treated like a memorial site.”
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