‘They deserve honor’: Local woman pushing for recognition of possible New Hope Cemetery site

Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Leon County Commission will hear an update on historians' research into the New Hope Cemetery; a brother and sister team believe their ancestors are buried behind the Testerina Baptist Church, just off the Miccosukee Greenway.

Gloria Anderson says she’s researched her father’s history for more than 25 years; conversations with members of her Church and the Testerina Baptist Church led her to the spot along the Miccosukee Greenway.

It was what her brother, Wilbert Jefferson Senior, found that convinced her she was in the right spot.

“I found the depressions in the ground. I knew that was it. And it really brought tears to my eyes to be able to find our ancestors' graves,” said Jefferson.

Anderson says the Florida Department of State and Leon County had been incredibly helpful with her research. She connected with Lonnie Mann, a local historian and member of the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee.

Mann brought his friend Susan Goodhope and her two cadaver dogs to the potential unmarked burial site.

Anderson says one dog notified for five possible graves, and the other for seven. She believes her grandmother, Mary Ann, and great-grandmother Suwannee are both buried there.

Her excitement at finding the graves was dimmed when she realized they were just part of the landscape.

“We thought there should be something. But there was absolutely nothing. Except the trail, going across the graveyard,” said Anderson, pointing at the Miccosukee Greenway.

According to the agenda item for the Leon County Commission, the Florida Department of State visited the site in June of 2020 and provided County staff with a report in August.

Aerial images from that spot have also helped convince experts of the existence of the Cemetery; photographs show the site was one of the only spots not cleared for farming in the early 20th century.

The report says, “Extensive research conducted by Anderson, along with the indications of human remains by Goodhope’s cadaver dogs and the aerial imagery showing that area was not cleared for farming in the 1930s, suggests there is a good chance that this is the site of the New Hope Cemetery.”

The State says ground-penetrating radar (GPR) would not be suitable for that location because of the heavy vegetation; extensive clearing of the area would disturb potential graves.

However, the State writes in the report that it does intend to conduct another cadaver dog survey in late October or early November.

The Department of Historical Resources writes, “The site of the possible cemetery is well protected since it is on state land and in an area that is safe from development, but the designation of the cemetery adds another layer of protection.”

If DHR authenticates the grave-site, County staff says they intend to bring back an agenda item memorializing those who are buried there.

Anderson says she wants the site to have recognition.

“They deserve honor. Because they worked hard. They worked to make this community a better place, as it is today,” said Anderson.

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