CLEARWATER — More than three years after archaeologists confirmed that graves from the erased segregation-era St. Matthews Baptist Church Cemetery remain on a 2½-acre portion of FrankCrum’s campus, the human resources company has filed a complaint against the city of Clearwater demanding that they relocate the graves and pay the expenses.
“Since we first became aware of the potential that graves were still on this land, FrankCrum has been working closely with our local community members, the NAACP and the city to find a resolution that corrects this wrong and that honors the departed and their loved ones,” Matt Crum, co-president of FrankCrum, said via email in a prepared statement. “We have been disappointed that the city has not acted by now.”
A spokesperson with the city of Clearwater said that they have hired the firm of GrayRobinson to represent them.
The complaint filed with Pinellas County’s 6th Judicial Circuit seeks a jury trial and cites a development agreement from 1998 that was signed by the city when they sold the land at 100 S. Missouri Ave. to IMR Global.
The agreement, included in the complaint, said, “The Global Center Site does not presently include human remains from any cemetery; notwithstanding the fact that the Global Center Site at one time did include a cemetery site, such cemetery has been previously transferred from the Global Center Site and all human remains associated therewith have also been so transferred.”
FrankCrum says that they relied on that agreement when they purchased the 14-acre campus from IMR Global in 2004.
St. Matthews Baptist Church Cemetery was established in 1909. In 1955, unable to pay the fees associated with the paving and widening of Missouri Avenue and with interest mounting, the church sold the land to Milton D. Jones, Chester B. McMullen Jr. and T. R. Hudd, who promised to move the cemetery.
The NAACP and other cemetery stakeholders want the graves moved to the site of another erased Black cemetery in the nearby North Greenwood neighborhood.
“We continue to work in partnership with the NAACP, descendants of the buried and community members to move forward with a memorial in the North Greenwood community to honor the loved ones at the school burial site as well as those at the FrankCrum site,” the city spokesperson said.
“We have been disappointed that the city has not acted by now,” Crum’s statement says. “Our preference was and still is to work collaboratively with the City, but since no progress has been made in over three years, we are now forced to use the legal system to move this matter forward.”