CLEARWATER, Fla — After five days of digging, archaeologists with Cardno have found 25 graves buried in a lot on and across the street from what used to be Curtis Fundamental School in Clearwater.
A crucial piece of evidence, “This is the nameplate for Mr. William Ridley who was buried in 1951 here,” said Jeff Moates, regional director for the Florida Public Archaeology Network.
It proves what many community members have said for years now — the grass lot on the corner of Engman street and Holt avenue still holds the graves and bodies of more than two dozen African American people.
For Barbara Sorey-Love it also shows a darker side of history.
“It shows disrespect for African Americans,” she said. “The devaluing of our value and truth always comes out. The truth always comes out.”
Archaeologists have also found all sorts of objects people would typically leave at gravesites, plus coffin nails and hardware associated with graves.
“For too long, the community has gone without answers, and now they’re getting the answers, and it’s paying respect,” said Sorey-Love.
The cemetery was in operation from 1940 to about 1954. Historical documentation shows there was a relocation process when the school district acquired the land for a city swimming pool. The land swap was contingent that all graves were removed.
“We’re clearly learning that this is providing insight to our past and to our past deserves a little more exploration,” said Bill Horn, the City Manager for the City of Clearwater.
“These are all examples of residues of structural racism, how black lives black lives haven’t mattered for a really long time,” said Moates. “What this is saying is these places belong here they need to remain here. These places are sacred.”
Archaeologists say they haven’t found a whole lot of documentation regarding the folks buried here and hope the community will help develop a clearer picture so these folks can be honored and remembered as they were intended to be.