A community group wants to make sure the nearly 700 black victims piled into an unmarked mass grave after the hurricane of 1928 are remembered.
As the 80th anniversary of the storm approaches this September, the Storm of '28 Memorial Coalition wants to honor the 674 black men, women and children buried at the site near downtown West Palm Beach by turning it into a commemorative meditation garden.
"Nobody should be forgotten because of the life they lived," the group's leader, Robert Hazard, told the Miami Herald. "You are talking about poor black people who helped build Palm Beach County. Somebody should know they walked this planet."
The coalition has been working to fix up the 14-acre patch of land for some time, but progress has been held up by lack of money and the city's development. The city of West Palm Beach was turned down for a state restoration grant in 2006 but plans to explore other funding.
A section of the mass grave was lost when a busy industrial stretch of 25th Street at Tamarind Avenue was extended. The pauper's cemetery has also been used as a dump and a sewage plant in the past.
"It was basically a blighted field with tremendous historic value that has been transformed into a beautiful memorial," Mayor Lois Frankel said. "Everything depends on costs, and the people working on it have been very resourceful. I think there are lots of possibilities."
In 1998, Hazard began holding anniversary events at the site and speaking about his vision for the property, which included the garden, an education center and a museum. The coalition cleaned up years of trash and continues to maintain the area.
A black wrought-iron fence now borders the site and two granite columns mark its entrance.
In 2002, the grave was granted official designation by the National Register of Historic Places.
The storm was the second-deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, surpassed only by the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, and killed an estimated 8,000 people.
In the 1928 storm, at least 2,500 people were killed in South Florida when storm surge from Lake Okeechobee breached the dike surrounding the lake and flooded an area covering hundreds of square miles.
The Category 4 storm hit Sept. 16 in the Jupiter Inlet after traveling through the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, where it killed 1,500.