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Records say a cemetery in Clearwater was moved. The NAACP wants to be sure.

Today, the property is parking space next to a vacant Pinellas County school building.
A cemetery once was located on what is now parking spaces next to a vacant Pinellas County School District building in Clearwater. The cemetery was moved but some bodies may have been left behind.
A cemetery once was located on what is now parking spaces next to a vacant Pinellas County School District building in Clearwater. The cemetery was moved but some bodies may have been left behind.
Published Dec. 13, 2019

CLEARWATER — A newspaper article declares the job done:

“The transfer of bodies from the old Negro cemetery to a new one northeast of Dunedin has been completed,” the Tampa Tribune reported on Dec. 21, 1954, in the last of a series articles about the move.

The unnamed African-American burial ground at Holt Avenue and Engman Street in Clearwater had been targeted for relocation to make room for a city pool and Pinellas High School. The remains of some 350 people were to be moved to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin.

Still, 65 years later, the local NAACP is calling for a survey to confirm that it happened.

“Hopefully there is nothing there and everything was done correctly,” said Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP. “But there is a likelihood there might be some there.”

Questions are arising now, in part, because of the new attention to local African-American burial grounds that has followed the discovery by the Tampa Bay Times of forgotten Zion Cemetery in Tampa. Buildings were erected atop Zion even though as many as 800 graves are still there and plans are under way to turn the property on North Florida Avenue into a memorial.

In addition, the NAACP has new information from 75-year-old Robert Young, owner of Smith-Youngs Funeral Home in Clearwater, who as a teenage gravedigger worked for the funeral home that moved the Clearwater burial ground. Young didn’t work that job but said that only graves with markers were relocated.

“How could they move something they didn’t know was there?" Young told the Tampa Bay Times.

That means unmarked graves could still be in the ground, Atkinson said.

The newspaper reports about the relocation of the cemetery are important, but “the memory of Mr. Young should be taken into consideration," said Jeff Moates, regional director for the Florida Public Archaeology Network. The network is helping research a number of forgotten African-American cemeteries, including Zion.

As the current owner of the property, the Pinellas County School District also is taking an interest in what became of the cemetery. District officials, said spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas, "are in our own fact-finding phase.”

The city pool is long gone and the school building on the site, behind the Clearwater Intermediate School, is unused and fenced off.

The cemetery was located on a portion of land that is parking spaces, Atkinson said, extending across what is today Holt Avenue.

Meantime, a survey is planned on an empty lot in an area once known as Clearwater Heights to determine whether bodies remain there.

Atkinson persuaded property owner Frank Crum to allow the work at 100 S. Missouri Ave. after former residents of the neighborhood approached the Times to report that unmarked graves of their relatives and friends were left behind when an unnamed African-American burial ground there was moved in the 1950s.

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RELATED: Clearwater might also have a lost African-American cemetery

Crum told the Times in October that he saw no reason for the survey because he was confident all the bodies had been exhumed. But he changed his mind after meeting with Atkinson and the former residents.

“We are happy to comply with the testing,” Crum spokeswoman Angie Garcia told the Times this week.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network, which helped locate the lost segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery along Florida Ave. in Tampa, will conduct the survey with ground penetrating sometime next year. They are still discussing who will fund it.

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