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In search of lost cemeteries

A number of cemeteries forgotten through the years across the Tampa Bay area came to light during 2019, most of them final resting places for African-Americans. The new attention to old burial grounds springs from a Tampa Bay Times report in June that revealed the first and largest of them – Zion Cemetery in Tampa.

This image created by the Tampa Bay Times overlays today's landscape onto a map of Zion Cemetery from 1901. The cemetery property with the warehouse and storefront today belongs to Richard Gonzmart. [Google Earth]
To date, 314 caskets have been discovered. There are likely hundreds more.
Jan. 7• Hillsborough
The cemetery was moved in the 1950s, but there is concern that unmarked graves were left behind.
Jan. 7• Pinellas
Archaeologists discovered 55 caskets when they scanned a new section of land on N Florida Ave. That means more than 800 caskets probably lie there.
Dec. 19, 2019• Tampa
It started with Zion Cemetery. Now, in a special visual presentation, see how forgotten African-American burial grounds have come to light all across the region.
Dec. 31, 2019• Special Reports
  1. Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Alton Smith helps recover items Wednesday from Lake Twitt in Odessa during a dive team practice. Divers used the drill to search for evidence of a forgotten African American cemetery nearby. [CHRIS URSO   |  Times]
    Keystone Memorial Cemetery was established by a freed slave and disappeared in the 1950s. The dive team chose Lake Twitt to do its monthly practice.
  2. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of a former African American cemetery in the old Clearwater Heights neighborhood, where he grew up. Archaeologists have begun surveying the land using ground penetrating radar. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    Marked graves were moved in the 1950s, records show. But unmarked graves may have been left behind.
  3. The heirs of the man who owned Memorial Park Cemetery in east Tampa are trying to abandon the property. The city of Tampa is scrambling for a way to continue maintaining the African American burial ground, the final resting place for more than 6,000 people. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    The owners want to abandon the African American cemetery in east Tampa, where around 6,000 people are buried.
  4. A digital overlay shows the modern structures that sit on top the early 1900s-era Zion Cemetery. [Google Earth]
    On at least three occasions from 1929 to 1962, the forgotten cemetery came to the attention of the city of Tampa. No action was taken.
  5. This image created by the Tampa Bay Times overlays today's landscape onto a map of Zion Cemetery from 1901. The cemetery property with the warehouse and storefront today belongs to Richard Gonzmart. [Google Earth]
    To date, 314 caskets have been discovered. There are likely hundreds more.
  6. 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]
    The cemetery was moved in the 1950s, but there is concern that unmarked graves were left behind.
  7. Hillsborough County Judge Lisa Campbell looks over a copy of a death certificate for a relative that was buried in the lost Port Tampa Cemetery.  If MacDill Air Force Base finds the cemetery on their property, she would like the remains to be returned so they can be buried with other family members. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    The Air Force will begin the search for graves next month. If remains are found, she’d like to move her ancestor to a family burial plot.
  8. Robert Cook, left, and Stetson Kennedy record the story of Edith Ogden-Aguilar Kennedy in Ybor City during 1939 as part of a Works Progress Administration effort to document life histories and folk culture. The agency also surveyed cemeteries to find veterans' graves, producing a statewide report that has proven useful in the search for lost cemeteries in Hillsborough County. [Times archives]
    A Works Progress Administration report on veterans’ graves turned up three sites now under study as possible African-American burial grounds.
  9. Archaeologists say Zion Cemetery likely was full when it disappeared in the late 1920s. This map of Zion was filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk when Zion was established on Feb. 20, 1901.  The cemetery on North Florida Avenue contained 98 plots, each 20 feet wide and with room for about eight graves. That's a total of about 800 graves. There was also a potters field on the north end of the cemetery for people who couldn't afford a coffin. [HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY CLERK'S OFFI  |  Hillsborough County Clerk's offi]
    To catch you up on what’s happened, here are answers to questions about all the burial grounds that have come to light in 2019.
  10. Graves from Zion Cemetery were detected at the Robles Park Village public housing project using images generated by ground-penetrating radar. [Cardno]
    The Florida Genealogical Society is trying to find and interview descendants of 450 people laid to rest at the forgotten burial ground.
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