DUNEDIN — Karen Mariscal cleans headstones at Dunedin Municipal Cemetery and researches the stories of those buried there. She has started the process of getting it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“She is very passionate about our cemetery,” said Janice Miller, a records management specialist with the City of Dunedin. “She has done a great deal.”
Now, Mariscal is pushing the city to erect its first statue in the 150-year-old burial ground at 2400 Keene Rd.
She wants it to honor Ed German, a Black pioneer who is not buried there.
“He should have been buried here,” Mariscal said. “If he was white, this is where he would be.”
Instead, he was buried in Clearwater’s St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, which is one of the Tampa Bay area’s erased Black burial grounds. Today, that cemetery is under the headquarters for FrankCrum, a human resources consulting firm.
“Ed German is too important to not have anything honoring him,” said Mariscal, a Clearwater resident. “He’s been overlooked long enough.”
Area historians consider John Donaldson, who purchased 40 acres in 1882, to be Pinellas County’s first Black landowner. But Mariscal contends that German deserves that distinction.
The federal government approved German’s application for an 80-acre Pinellas homestead in 1883. But to receive that approval, he first needed to have lived on the property for at least five years, “improving it with witnesses to testify to such,” Mariscal said. “He completed his homestead application in 1877. So that is when he began living on his land. That makes him first.”
German was born enslaved. Census records show he was a veteran, Mariscal said. “His former slave owner may have enlisted him in the Civil War as a child either in place of himself or in addition, as was commonplace to do.”
Once free, German worked as a laborer. Beloved for his willingness to help others, friends and neighbors called him “Uncle,” Mariscal said.
He died in 1954.
Those buried in St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery were supposed to be moved to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin in the mid-1950s.
So, why not erect a statue of German there?
“Because all his neighbors were buried here,” Mariscal said during a tour of Dunedin Municipal Cemetery. “This is where he should have been buried. But this was for whites only. And I don’t feel right knowing my son is buried in an all-white cemetery.”
Her son Danny Mariscal’s death began this crusade. The 18-year-old died in a car accident in 2014 while on his way to University of South Florida band rehearsal. The following football game included a moment of silence and a national anthem directed by his Dunedin High School band director. The band wore black arm bands for the remainder of the season.
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But, months later, as Mariscal visited her son’s grave, she noticed headstones that were so dirty or old that the names were hidden or erased.
“And I thought, what if, someday, Danny is forgotten like that too?” Mariscal said. “What happens when he no longer has family to care for him. Will that happen to him? That’s not right. No one should be forgotten. Everyone should be remembered. I do this for Danny.”
Mariscal cleaned the dirty headstones and asked the city to place tin markers bearing the names at those graves with illegible headstones.
Next came the research, documenting the lives of those buried in the nearly 8-acre cemetery established in the 1870s.
There is Dunedin’s first mayor, L.B. Skinner. And one of Hillsborough County’s earliest superintendents, William F. White. There are the graves of 16 Confederate and 15 Union soldiers.
“Our cemetery records are quite old,” Miller said. “Her research has allowed us to update some of our records with more accurate information.”
In 2020, archaeologists confirmed that St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery was still there, hidden under a parking lot and a piece of a building.
Mariscal continued her work in Dunedin but also researched those buried in that Clearwater cemetery.
“They weren’t just forgotten about,” she said. “They were erased.”
She agrees with the community plan to one day erect a marker on the Clearwater site listing the name of all those buried there.
But she wants German to receive added attention.
She emailed her request to city officials in February and is “patiently” waiting for a response but will not wait much longer, Mariscal laughed. “I can be stubborn. But I think everyone agrees that no one should be forgotten.”