Human remains from a lost cemetery have been found in Clearwater

St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery was moved in the mid-1950s but the unmarked graves were left behind.
Archaeologists with Cardno, Rebecca O’Sullivan, left, and Eric Prendergast, work to sift through sand on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, while working to confirm ground-penetrating radar results which have indicated 70 “possible graves” from where Clearwater's black St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery was located at the FrankCrum staffing firm property at Missouri Avenue and Pierce Street in Clearwater. The excavation comes after more than a year of research by archaeologists with Cardno, the University of South Florida, the NAACP, and the local community.
Published March 11, 2021|Updated March 12, 2021

CLEARWATER — Archaeologists have confirmed the presence of human remains under the footprint of the former St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, which was moved in the mid-1950s.

The cemetery was for Black residents of the since-razed community of Clearwater Heights. Today the property is home to the FrankCrum company’s Clearwater campus at 100 S. Missouri Ave.

“On behalf of myself and my family, I want to acknowledge the past, take pause to learn what we can about it, and pay our respects to the African American families, both present and past, who call this community home,” Matt Crum, co-president of FrankCrum, said in a statement.

In June, archaeologists announced that ground penetrating radar detected 70 “possible graves” under half an acre of the cemetery’s 2½-acre footprint.

This week the private archaeology firm Cardno confirmed the graves through a process known as “ground truthing,” carefully removing layers of soil until they reach the burial.

Over the last two years, graves from five erased cemeteries have been discovered throughout the Tampa Bay area. Four were Black cemeteries and the fifth, a pauper’s burial ground found on Tampa’s King High School campus, was nearly all-Black.

Clearwater Heights was a Black community established in the early 1900s, roughly bounded by Cleveland Street to the north, Court Street to the south, Ewing Avenue to the west and Missouri Avenue to the east.

The cemetery was created in 1909 by St. Matthews Baptist Church and the bodies were supposed to all be moved to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin in the mid-1950s.

Still, former residents have long said that unmarked graves were left behind.