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Silent reminder of days gone by

This year, the state is planning to publish a booklet of 154 sites important in African-American history in Florida. Three of the sites chosen for the Black Heritage Trail are in Citrus County: the Frasier Cemetery and Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, both in Floral City, and the Second Bethel Baptist Church in south Dunnellon. The Citrus Times is profiling each of these sites to mark Black History Month.

FLORAL CITY _ A stroll among the scattered graves in Frasier Cemetery is a walk down memory lane for Anna Robinson.

During a visit last week, the 79-year-old Floral City resident wandered from grave to grave, peering curiously at each marker, trying to make out the faded lettering.

"We went to school together," she declared when she found the Jones family graves.

"He ain't kin to them! Why did they put him here?" she exclaimed when she discovered an outsider next to another family's tombs.

One grave she knew well. She had the headstone put there herself: Arthur Norton, her father, who was the oldest known resident of Citrus County when he died in 1986 at age 108.

Norton, a Tallahassee native, moved to Floral City around the turn of the century to work in the phosphate mines and stayed here for the rest of his life. His grave is one reason Frasier Cemetery has been chosen as a site on Florida's first Black Heritage Trail.

The cemetery, bordered by the old railroad bed, Great Oaks Drive and East Tower Trail, is neither immaculately manicured nor terribly overgrown. The cones and long needles from a stand of soaring pine trees cover the ground. Anthills appear to outnumber the graves.

The graves are scattered in clumps, some linked by family ties and others by their era. Some are marked only by faded wooden crosses, others with concrete or marble headstones. Some markers have no name at all.

Many of the caskets are encased in concrete vaults. Mrs. Robinson recalled one man who didn't want a vault for fear that, on judgment day, "he couldn't get up with all that weight on him."

A couple of well-tended graves are surrounded by ankle-high chicken-wire fences, painted silver. "I'm going to get some wire and do the same thing," an impressed Mrs. Robinson declared.

The earliest graves date back to the early 1900s, not long after Norton arrived in Floral City.

His wife, Clemmie, who came from High Springs and who died in 1952, lies next to him. He never remarried. "She asked him not to, and he said he wouldn't," said Mrs. Robinson, who cared for her father during his final years.

The family plot includes the graves of Mrs. Robinson's sister, two brothers and a brother-in-law. Her husband, Jesse, who died in 1969, is also buried there. A space between his grave and her father's has been saved for Mrs. Robinson.

Having outlived most of her neighbors, schoolmates and friends, Mrs. Robinson is one of a handful of African-Americans still living in Floral City, a mere shadow of the crowds that once turned out for church picnics and ball games.

"There ain't nobody to have those things now," Mrs. Robinson said. "The older ones died and the younger ones left."

The mines and sawmills that made Floral City a boomtown have been replaced by a smattering of lakefront retirement homes. Today, there may be more black people buried in Frasier cemetery than there are living in Floral City.

Up next:Obituaries

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