TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Students are learning Tarpon Springs' African American history in a unique way.
Beautifully hand-painted plaques were made by students, to memorialize the unknown buried at the Tarpon Springs' Rose Cemetery.
“We believe that there are about 400 bodies that are buried here without an identifiable marker,” said Shannon Peck-Bartle, Director Rose Hill Cemetery Place-based Learning Project.
The memorialization project is part of the Rose Hill Cemetery curriculum, being taught in Hillsborough and Pinellas County Schools.
Rose Cemetery, originally called Rose Hill cemetery, is the largest intact segregated African American cemetery in Pinellas County and is still being used today. The earliest legible marked burial is from 1904.
“We believe there’s going to be burials that pre-date 1904. That the cemetery was really established right around 1890 where you have some of your early Afro-Caribbean sponge divers moving in,” said Shannon Peck-Bartle, Program Director of Rose Hill Cemetery Place-based Learning Project.
Social studies teacher Shannon Peck-Bartle, created the curriculum to teach students about the pioneering African Americans buried there, and to preserve the cemetery's rich history.
“Students were actually working on preservation. They were learning about the best practices in order to clean headstones. They were engaged in cemetery sight cleanings and clean up in order to help beautify the property and then once COVID hit they started to transition more into archival research,” said Peck-Bartle.
There are roughly 2,000 people buried here at Rose Cemetery, each telling the story of Black History in Tarpon Springs. Like Mahalia Jones born in 1856. She was the only midwife to serve the African American community in Tarpon Springs.
“Probably the most notable would be Richard Quarls who's also known as Christopher Columbus. He was a former slave in South Carolina and was required to serve for his master in the Civil War. After the end of the war, he fled down here to Tarpon Springs where he opened up his own business. The Daughters of the Confederacy placed a confederate monument honoring his history and his story. So, he is certainly an example of the complexity of the past,” explained Peck-Bartle.
Those are history lessons she believes are being kept alive through the cemetery and the rediscovering of other Black cemeteries in Tampa Bay that were destroyed.
“A place like this is really important to bring people together to kind of have that shared conversation of our community and some of the difficult histories in our past and how we can work together to move forward in a way that brings respect to all people,” said Peck-Bartle.