Monday, January 27, 2020

Progress steamrolled sacred grounds

This sign was photographed at an abandoned cemetery in
Charlotte County. Efforts were made to clean up the burial
ground about 10 years ago.  (Photo credit: Jeremy
at the Waymarking website.)
Cemeteries are on my mind. For two reasons. One, I am helping my elderly father through his final days. In the not-too-distant future, I'll stand at the New York burial site he purchased some 50 years ago and watch as he and my deceased mother's cremains are put to rest next to a baby they buried decades ago.

At least I know where my long-gone brother's grave is. And where my parents are to be buried. And what the family tombstone looks like and what names and dates will be added to it. Finally, I'll have the peace of knowing my loved ones will rest undisturbed in a long-established Catholic cemetery.

That's not the case with lost and/or forgotten African-American cemeteries in Florida. It seems every week I hear another news report about the discovery of a lost cemetery. We're not talking isolated resting grounds hidden in overgrown woods. I'm hearing disturbing reports of established cemeteries that were paved over during the first half of the 20th century. Roads, stores, houses, you name it, were built atop what should have been protected sacred ground.

Such wanton disregard is hard for me to understand.  These aren't isolated cases. There are 49 videos in  Tampa news station 10 News WTSP's YouTube playlist "Erased: Tampa Bay's Forgotten Cemteries." They focus on several cemeteries in the Tampa area.

Closer to my part of Central Florida, there was news a few years ago about an African-American cemetery split from its community - and subsequently forgotten - when Interstate 4 came through Lake Helen.

Another nearby abandoned cemetery is associated with a late 19th-early 20th century African-American community named Garfield. The settlement of Garfield was founded by ex-slaves after the Civil War. The land was lost to back taxes during the Depression and pre-World War II years. Today, what used to be Garfield - and its cemetery - are swallowed by the city of Deltona.

The Garfield cemetery was briefly in the news 15 or  20 years ago, when someone stumbled across its location. I haven't heard a thing since then. The city of Deltona apparently did an archaeological survey. It, too, was buried. I tried to read it over a decade ago, but the city refused.

In another local case, a forgotten potter's field was rediscovered during construction of a hospital expansion in DeLand. Only a few old-timers remembered the site had been the burial place for people who had died indigent and/or unclaimed.

It's chilling to realize these local cases, plus what's being uncovered in Tampa, plus others I've read about, are signs of a disheartening disrespect that likely infected much of Florida in the past century. May all the deceased and the sacred grounds they rest in once again regain their dignity.

Here's the playlist of 49 short videos about lost cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area:

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