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New statewide task force on abandoned cemeteries could have impacts in Leon Co.

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 6:23 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A new state task force is looking into ways to preserve and memorialize African American cemeteries that have been forgotten around Florida.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 37 earlier this month; it will be in effect July 1st.

The task force needs to hold its first meeting by August 1st, and it needs to provide its report by January 1st.

While the 10 person group will investigate sites all around the state, Tallahassee and Leon County have quite a few cemeteries that could be part of the discussion.

One of the most well known spots is at the Capital City Country Club, where 40 unmarked gravesites have been identified.

Delaitre Hollinger is part of the committee memorializing those sites; the focus group updated the City Commission last month, showing plans for a state historical marker, a seat wall, and a pathway.

Hollinger says it’s vital to preserve history.

“If we know where we’ve come from, we know where we’re going,” he said.

Some cemeteries are documented, but local residents say they still need additional preservation and up-keep.

In July of 2018, K9 “Shiraz” helped to find unmarked graves at the Munree Cemetery, which is on the east side of Leon County.

Other sites are still waiting for recognition.

Last September, Wilbert Jefferson Senior and his sister Gloria Anderson told WCTV the New Hope Cemetery is where their ancestors are buried. The site is behind the Testerina Baptist Church, just off Miccosukee Road.

“I found the depressions on the ground,” said Jefferson. “I knew that was it.”

They’re hoping for a memorial and recognition for their family members.

“They worked to make this community a better place,” said Anderson.

The Department of Historical Resources has twice brought K9 dogs out to the site; both times, dogs notified for human remains. In an Executive Summary from April of this year, DHR writes:

DHR recommends preservation and protection of New Hope Cemetery (LE6465). The recorded boundaries have been drawn to accommodate the largest area within reasonable doubt for containing human remains. While DHR is not aware of any current plans for development that would affect the area around New Hope Cemetery, should future undertakings occur we would recommend avoidance. A section of the main path of the Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway does intersect the recorded boundary; however, this intersection occurs in an area within the boundary that lies on the periphery of any K9 alerts that would indicate actual grave locations (Figures 1 and 2). We do not recommend any redirection of the main path at this time. Conversely, it was noted during the course of the survey that visitors frequently use a spur trail along the fence that does cross into and through the cemetery boundary (Figures 1 and 2). DHR does recommend that Leon County, at minimum, discontinue use of this spur trail to reduce any possible adverse effects to the cemetery. DHR is willing to further assist Leon County and the City of Tallahassee with the preservation, informational interpretation, and commemoration of this important historic cemetery.

Executive Summary of Investigations at New Hope Cemetery (8LE6465) Leon County, Florida

During a press conference in Tampa Thursday morning, Senator Janet Cruz spoke about the task force’s goals.

“Slavery and segregation are dark marks on Florida’s history, and they are marks that we cannot erase. This is an issue that should be deeply personal to all of us,” said Senator Cruz. “According to estimates made by state and federal archaeologists, there are nearly 3,000 abandoned African American cemeteries across the state of Florida that have not yet been identified.”

Hollinger has high hopes for the group.

“I’m hoping that this task force will be the catalyst for bringing about additional investigation and additional committees or councils that will investigate these cemeteries and bring this history to light.”

You can read more about the new law, and who might be a part of the task force, here.

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