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Tampa pledges to match the state’s $50,000 for a Zion Cemetery memorial.

Civil rights activists say that is not enough. But steps have been taken to form a nonprofit and raise even more.
A section of the Robles Park Village public housing complex was built on top the forgotten Zion Cemetery. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

TAMPA — Last week, the Florida Senate moved to set aside $50,000 for a memorial at the site of the forgotten segregation-era, all-black Zion Cemetery.

This week, that dollar figure doubled. And it may soon triple.

On Thursday, speaking before a Zion Cemetery advisory committee appointed by the Tampa Housing Authority, assistant city attorney Toyin Aina–Hargrett said the city is also committing $50,000. What’s more, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller recommended Wednesday that the county spend the same amount.

Still, some members of the Zion committee insist these figures are nowhere near enough.

“That is all those people’s lives are worth?” Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough County NAACP, said Thursday, noting that some 800 people were buried at Zion. “That is an insult.”

Archaeologists have confirmed that at least 300 caskets still lie under the property — now warehouse space, a tow lot and public housing.

[Forgotten no more: State Senate OKs $100,000 for black cemetery memorials]

Activist Connie Burton echoed Lewis’ comments, but both stopped short of suggesting how much is enough.

“I’m not looking for a plaque,” Burton said. “I want nothing short of a Herculean statue to show the full impact of what (African Americans) have done for this city.”

The city can still give more, Aina–Hargrett said.

One way is the creation of a nonprofit organization to own and manage the land once the buildings are razed, the three parcels are unified and a memorial is built. The city has already taken steps to set up the organization.

A board of directors could then request money from different agencies, Aina–Hargrett said, including the city of Tampa, the state, the county, and the federal government.

An initial memorial could be replaced once a grander one is funded, she said.

[See how the story of forgotten cemeteries has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times]

The Tampa Housing Authority owns nearly half the Zion land and Leroy Moore, its chief operating officer, raised concerns about what would happen if the non-profit dissolves some day.

The city would always serve as a “safety net," Aina–Hargrett said.

But Lewis with the NAACP said the city also had that responsibility when Zion was erased nearly a century ago

“The city has got to do better,” Lewis said, “when it comes to the treatment of African American people.”

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