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.

A grave marker in Tampa's Oaklawn Cemetery for a lynching victim.
A group of local elected officials, historians, pastors and civil rights leaders want to erect a monument honoring all Hillsborough County's racial lynching victims. [Paul Guzzo | Times]
Four lost black cemeteries have been found in the last year. There could be more. What does this say about the Tampa Bay area’s history?
Earlier today• News
Archaeologists discovered at least 70 graves that were left behind when a Clearwater cemetery was moved in the 1950s.
Jun. 3• News
The century-old all-black burial ground has at least 6,000 headstones, but it is unknown how many unmarked graves are there. The city is working to find out.
Jun. 3• 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• Long Reads
  1. A grave marker in Tampa's Oaklawn Cemetery for a lynching victim.
A group of local elected officials, historians, pastors and civil rights leaders want to erect a monument honoring all Hillsborough County's racial lynching victims. [Paul Guzzo | Times]
  2. In November, Muhammad Abdur-Rahim pointed out the location of where he believed was a former African-American cemetery on Frank Crum Staffing's campus located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  Archaeologists have confirmed that graves from that cemetery are still there. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  3. Aerial photo of where the city of Tampa has hired archaeologists to search empty swaths of the all-black century-old Memorial Park Cemetery for lost graves. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
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  5. A view of a creek behind Pemberton Creek Drive in Seffner, where a great battle might have been fought between the Seminole Tribe and the U.S. military during the Seminole Wars. Its exact location has long been unknown. Author Jeff Hough believes he found the spot. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  6. Descendants of William Mobley and Savilla Allen gathered in Odessa in February for a family reunion. Mobley enslaved Allen, but she also bore children for him. [Courtesy of Michele Houston-Hicks]
  7. Suzi Goodhope helped search a corner of MacDill Air Force Base last month with her human-remains detection dog, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois named Shiraz. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  8. A Times investigation led to the rediscovery of Zion Cemetery underneath Robles Park Village. [Google Earth]
  9. All but one of 29 families have moved from a section of Robles Park Village that was built on top of the forgotten Zion Cemetery. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  10. The owner of Tampa's financially troubled Memorial Park Cemetery has died and his family no longer wants to operate it. The city of Tampa is moving to find someone to take it over. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  11. Members of the Florida Army National Guard Honor Guard remove an American flag from the casket containing remains of five unknown soldiers who served at Fort Brooke in the 1800s. A reburial ceremony was held at Curlew Hills Memorial Gardens in Palm Harbor. [PAUL GUZZO  |  Times]
  12. A view of construction on the 50 acres of the Water Street project in downtown Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times (2019)]
  13. A cemetery was once located in this parking lot next to a vacant Pinellas County School District building in Clearwater. Now ground radar has discovered 44 African-American graves at the site, and more could be found. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  14. A section of the Robles Park Village public housing complex was built on top the forgotten Zion Cemetery. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  15. Michele Houston-Hicks holds a picture of her great grandmother, Claudia Lewis, who walked with her as a little girl through Keystone Memorial Park Cemetery. Behind her is the former Citrus Park Colored School, founded by her ancestor Barbara Allen. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  16. Suzi Goodhope of Havana, Fla., and Shiraz, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois, are helping in the search for an African American cemetery forgotten somewhere on the grounds of MacDill Air Force Base. Goodhope trains human-remains detection dogs in Havana, Fla. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  17. Like the rest of Florida, and Tampa in particular, MacDill Air Force Base treated African Americans as second class citizens in its early days during World War II. The history is surfacing again as archaeologists prepare to search for graves that might have been left behind in a black cemetery when the base was developed. [Times (2000)]
  18. Zion Cemetery disappeared in the late 1920s just as the new owner built a storefront on the land. Today, hundreds of graves lie beneath the property — home to public housing apartments, warehouses and a vehicle tow lot. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
  19. Penny Padgett, sister-in-law of retired Hillsborough County Judge J. Rogers Padgett Sr., looks through family pictures at her Clearwater home. Rogers Padgett, at rear, and Chip Padgett are great-grandsons of former Clearwater Mayor Robert Padgett, who donated land for use as an African American cemetery. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  20. The north side of Martí/Colón Cemetery now sits under the Columbus Center shopping plaza at 3115 Columbus Dr. in Tampa. The area was rezoned for commercial use in the 1980s after city certified that graves were relocated. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  21. Ground penetrating radar was used find the erased Zion Cemetery on property along North Florida Avenue. The same technology is now being used to search for lost graves throughout the Tampa Bay area. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  22. Technicians from T2 Utility Engineers use ground-penetrating radar in December to survey a storefront along North Florida Avenue that is part of the forgotten Zion Cemetery. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  23. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what he believed to be a former African American cemetery next to the parking lot of FrankCrum Staffing, 100 S Missouri Ave. in Clearwater. Now, it appears the cemetery may have been on an adjacent lot where the building stands. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  24. 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]