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Archaeologists to begin search for possible lost African-American graves in Clearwater

The cemetery was moved in the 1950s, but there is concern that unmarked graves were left behind.
Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S Missouri Ave. in Clearwater. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

CLEARWATER — Those who grew up in the since-razed African-American community of Clearwater Heights acknowledge that the unnamed 1-acre cemetery in their neighborhood was moved in the 1950s to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin.

But they contend that only the marked graves were relocated.

Related: Clearwater might also have a lost African American cemetery

Those buried without headstones, they say, are still on the land near the corner of Madison Avenue and Gould Street that today is part of a 2-acre vacant lot on FrankCrum Staffing’s Clearwater campus at 100 S. Missouri Ave.

Soon, they’ll know for certain.

Beginning Jan. 21, the University of South Florida’s Florida Public Archaeology Network will survey the property for graves with ground penetrating radar.

“The hope is that there is nothing there to find, but the reality is there most likely is,” Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP, said. “Once we get a report on what they find, we will go from there.”

Related: See how the story of lost cemeteries unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Public Archaeology Network was part of the effort that has so far identified 199 graves from the forgotten Zion Cemetery, the segregation-era all-black burial ground that was established in 1901, built over beginning in 1929 and forgotten until June when the Tampa Bay Times questioned what became of it and those interred there.

The organization might also look for lost graves later this year from an unnamed African-American burial ground at Holt Avenue and Engman Street, now site of a vacant school campus owned by the Pinellas County School District.

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

Like the Clearwater Heights cemetery, it too was moved to Parklawn Memorial in the 1950s but there is concern that unmarked graves were left behind.

School district spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said they will decide on the next step later this week.

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