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There are likely more African-American cemeteries that are lost in Tampa, historian says

'Our ancestors are talking to us'
Posted at 2:59 PM, Oct 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-29 07:28:27-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- A Tampa historian revealed to community leaders that there are likely more African-American cemeteries that have been lost and forgotten in the city of Tampa.

On Monday, community leaders, along with local and state lawmakers were apart of a committee that was formed to start a discussion about the possibility of more than 200 people buried on land at a public high school. The majority of those believed to be buried at King High School are African-Americans.

Yvette Lewis, President of the Hillsborough County NAACP chapter, was emotional following word that there are likely more lost cemeteries.

"Our ancestors are talking to us," she said.

The school district put together a timeline on what they know about the land since 1933.

Around the 1950s, the timeline shows how the mayor at the time worked to sell the land to a company of local investors. In old newspaper clippings, the former mayor indicated to stakeholders that the land includes a cemetery.

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However, over the next few years, when the school board expressed interest on buying the land for a new school, there was no indication in historical records that any remains were moved to other sites.

On Monday, the school district updated leaders that they have hired a firm to start the ground penetrating radar to search for possible lost souls. The results are expected mid-week.

When Rodney Kite-Powell with Tampa History Center was asked if there are more lost African-American cemeteries, he replied, "there very likely is."

If bodies are found on the school property, the committee that was formed will work together on what to do with the bodies.

This past summer, another African-American cemetery was found buried under a housing development.

A company hired by the Tampa Bay Housing Authority found there are at least 120 African-Americans buried there.

State Representative Wengay Newton said he wants state leaders to pass legislation, and allocate money for these type of discoveries.

He commented on the fact that there could be more lost cemeteries.

"I didn’t like what I found out," he said. "It seems like its been standard operating procedure to develop on top of African-American grave sites."

When Kite-Powell, with Tampa Bay History Center, was asked about who is to blame for this. He said, "that's a great question, both of these happened at at time when there was really no one looking out certainly for African-Americans, but there was really no one looking out for the past."

He went on to say both of these period of times were when the city was rapidly growing, "it was almost a desire to not let anything hamper that growth, ya know, not let anything get in the way."