CLEARWATER, Fla. — A preliminary report indicates there could be graves remaining by an old school building in Clearwater.
The graves could be on property shared by the city and Pinellas County School district, at what was once the North Greenwood Cemetery.
The engineering firm Cardno and archaeologists with the Florida Public Archaeology Network used ground penetrating radar to scan land around the old Curtis Fundamental school on Holt Avenue earlier this month. A draft report says 44 grave-like anomalies were found.
The City of Clearwater, school district and NAACP released the report during a press conference Friday.
"We’re all joined together to really focus on doing the right thing. We’re facing a set of circumstances that none of us created but we do believe that there is an appropriate way for us to support the community in a very sensitive way so that everybody can move forward," said city manager Bill Horne.
According to the city and the Pinellas County School District officials, the property was a historically African American cemetery.
In the 1950s, there was a land swap to make way for a city swimming pool, however, it was contingent that all the graves were removed.
Later on, the school district built what was then known as Palmetto Elementary and later on Curtis Fundamental, which was relocated. The building hasn't housed a school for about 15 years.
Officials said they believed the graves were relocated.
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When concerns were raised that unmarked graves were not relocated, the scans were initiated.
"It’s an unfortunate situation that America has the history that it has and has done very little if anything to make amends for the atrocities of the past. These kinds of situations will keep coming up and people just need to talk about the things that they remember so they can have good partners," said Zebbie D. Atkinson IV, the president of the Clearwater Upper Pinellas County branch of the NAACP.
Experts surveyed open grass lots, parking lots, Holt Avenue, part of Engman St. and space around the school building.
The report says in addition to the grave-like anomalies, there were also disturbances that may indicate where burials were removed.
It also added that clusters of grave like anomalies were found adjacent to Holt Avenue and near the school building.
The draft report states, "it is likely that a number of additional grave-like anomalies will be present beneath the footprint of the school building."
"I think one of the two things we want to do, obviously, we want to engage with the community as well get some direction from them. Also engage with all of our partners including the city including the NAACP but to work on that site mitigation plan or the site plan for the future use of the facility," said Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for Pinellas County Schools.
Cardno recommended the city consult with community partners, report information to the state, complete ground truthing to determine the nature of disturbances, additional GPR survey and development of a work plan.