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10 important moments in the story of Tampa’s erased Zion Cemetery

Archaeologists are currently working to validate hundreds of Zion graves detected with ground penetrating radar.

One year ago today, the Tampa Bay Times published its first story questioning whether the segregation-era, all-black Zion Cemetery was moved before its 2.5 acres along the 3700 block of N. Florida Avenue was developed.

Related: Read the Times full coverage of lost cemeteries throughout the Tampa Bay area

Since then, dozens of articles about Zion have further flushed out its history as archaeologists confirmed nearly 300 coffins were detected via ground penetrating radar.

This week, archaeologists are digging to validate the radar findings.

Here are 10 of the Times’ stories on Zion that can catch you on this year-long story.

1. It all began with a story about Ray Reed

Tampa resident Ray Reed stands among several headstones dating back to the 20th century at the Cemetery for All People in Tampa on Monday, August 27, 2018. ["BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES"]

Reed is a cemetery researcher looking to discover who is buried in unmarked graves in the Cemetery for All People, an early-20th century burial ground for the indigent and unknown. He told the Times he has also found death records for Zion Cemetery but had no idea what or where it was. So the Times went looking.

2. The first Times report on Zion is published on June 23, 2019.

Hillsborough County Clerk This is a map of Zion Cemetery that was filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk on Feb. 20th, 1901. Zion contained 98 plots that were 20 feet across across and 5 feet apart. There is also a potters field on the north end of the cemetery for residents who couldn't afford a coffin. [HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY CLERK'S OFFI | Hillsborough County Clerk's offi]

3. Someone remembers

96-year-old Eunive Massey recalls the time when bodies were exhumed in Zion Cemetery during a recent conversation in her home Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

Days after that initial report, a woman reached out to the Times with memories from growing up next to Zion.

4. Housing Authority committee formed

A drone photo of Robles Park Village in Tampa. In 1951 when these projects were being built, workers dug up three bodies near the spot where this photo was taken. Newspaper accounts from the time said the bodies were buried in Zion Cemetery and should have been moved in 1925. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The Tampa Housing Authority formed a committee to oversee the search for Zion on the portion of the cemetery they own and where five Robles Park Village apartments sit.

5. Radar finds graves

This image is a 3D laser scan of Robles Park Village showing subsurface results in relation to the buildings. The red and/or blue rectangles represent buried objects in the shape of graves superimposed on the 3D imagery. These results are from two different data sources and they align with historical maps of the former Zion Cemetery. Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 in Tampa, FL. [Cardno]

Archaeologists announced that ground penetrating radar detected graves on the Tampa Housing Authority’s property.

6. History of community explored

An artist's rendition of the Robles Park Village when it opened in 1954. Then for white's only, the housing project replaced the pioneering African American neighborhood of Robles Pond. [Times files]

The Times provided a history lesson on Robles Pond, the black community where Zion Cemetery was located.

7. Graves detected on tow lot

Archaeologists from Cardno announced Thursday it has detected at least 55 caskets on a basketball court-sized section of Zion that now belongs to Sunstate Wrecker Services towing at 3800 N Ave., in Tampa. This slide is from their presentation at the Tampa Housing Authority Thursday morning and shows an overhead view of the survey area. On the right is Robles Park Village and the roof in the lower left is land owned by Richard Gonzmart. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

Archaeologists announced that ground penetrating radar also detected Zion graves on a tow lot.

8. And again on neighboring property

This field and warehouse off Florida Avenue across the street from E. Kentucky Avenue is believed to be the site of the former Zion Cemetery which was established in 1901. It is currently owned by restaurateur Richard Gonzmart. During a nine-month investigation by the Times, no evidence was found that a mass reinterment occurred. [Times photo by Luis Santana]

The final piece of Zion Cemetery property was scanned with ground penetrating radar. More graves were found.

9. Robles Park Village empties

29 families have already been moved in Robles Park Village after archaeologists confirmed in August that the segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery was still under 5 of those buildings. Two families remain and will be gone by the second week in March. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

The five Robles Park Village apartment buildings built on Zion land were vacated.

10. Ground truthing finds graves

Archaeologists Kelsey Kreiser, Rebecca O'Sullivan, Eric Prendergast and Jeff Moates survey an area of Robles Park Village where they believe graves from Zion Cemetery may be located in Tampa, Monday, June 22, 2020. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

Archaeologists physically confirmed Zion graves are located on the Tampa Housing Authority’s property. They are now seeking to learn whether the caskets are still there.

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