An effort to restore a historically black cemetery is underway in Pinellas County, but it could be temporarily halted because of new ownership.
"Before integration that was the only place black people could be buried," Eddie Pringle said.
Pringle has relatives and friends, who are buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport. He said the cemetery has been neglected over the years. Many graves are unmarked and it's hard to find where people are buried.
"I hope it gets cleaned up and that it (will) be a place that people would actually want to bury their relatives in," Pringle said.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was working with county officials to receive a grant to clean up the cemetery. They were working on getting $90,000 in BP settlement funding, which was going to be used to restore the cemetery. They were also working on obtaining ownership of the cemetery.
Monday night, members of the church were told a new group obtained ownership of the cemetery about a week ago. The pastor of the church turned over their documents to the new group, Monday night. Community members said they were blindsided.
"It doesn't matter who the lead agency is, lets get it done," Pastor Clarence WIlliams said.
The new group is known as the Lincoln Cemetery Society. The president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society said she is passionate about cleaning up the cemetery.
"My vested interest is the souls…those people…even though I have no family or no friends (there) I still care about those people," Vanessa Gray, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society said.
Pastor Williams said he is going to ask the county to transfer the grant money to the Lincoln Cemetery Society.
Gray said they plan to fix a number of issues with the cemetery, including drainage and adding fencing around the property.
"If we don't get this money, we do have a plan B and we want everybody to be aware of (it) as well that this is going to be a long process and it doesn't stop here," Gray said.
Families hope the beauty of the cemetery will be restored soon.
"We want to make sure that it stays there forever and not build some condominium complex over it," Pringle said.
It is unclear whether county officials will allocate the grant money to the Lincoln Cemetery Society to fix Lincoln Cemetery.
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