Tampa Bay Times reporter Paul Guzzo and cemetery researcher Ray Reed won the President’s Award Friday from the Hillsborough County NAACP for uncovering erased Black cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area.
The award, chosen by the president of the local chapter, goes to a person who went above and beyond in the community for civil rights.
The Times published Guzzo’s first report on Zion Cemetery in 2019, questioning whether bodies buried in an historically Black cemetery were moved before developers built on top of the Tampa site.
“I keep saying it’s the last cemetery story,” Guzzo said. “Then another one comes up.”
Guzzo brought an injustice to light, said Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, and the published works of erased cemeteries gave the local Black community a chance to talk about how they were treated over the years and to stand up against it.
“This story here was a voice for African American people who didn’t have it,” Lewis said.
To uncover the cemeteries required hours of research and going through thousands of pages of documents, Guzzo said. And it all began with a tip from Reed, a cemetery researcher.
“Ray Reed was persistent in trying to get somebody to tell the story,” Lewis said about why he was awarded. When Reed first came to her office, she said she didn’t pay attention at first. But since Guzzo’s reporting, she said the NAACP branch received hundreds of calls from people wanting the chapter to keep up the fight for telling the history.
It even got attention from the national office. The head of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, was there to present the award.