GULFPORT, Fla. -- Students attending Boca Ciega High School thought the abandoned cemetery next door was a creepy, forgotten place that had been turned into a sad dumping ground for trash.
“Many of my students were afraid to even go to the cemetery,” says Boca Ciega teacher Dr. Alicia Isaac. “They were even more afraid to walk between the rows.”
Dr. Isaac met Vanessa Gray one day a few years ago and everything changed.
Gray is a young woman whose passion project was to restore the resting place she’d been enamored with since she was a kid.
Dr. Isaac learned that Lincoln Cemetery was the final resting place for thousands of African-Americans who were segregated from the cemetery next door.
Even more moving, many of the people buried in the cemetery in the 1920s were heroic members of the Tampa Bay community whose graves and legacy had been all but forgotten.
Isaac rallied her students to help Gray with her mission by researching, writing and woodworking.
On Thursday, the Lincoln Cemetery Society will unveil a new self-guided walking tour of almost 20 notable graves, including Civil War hero John Lasker and pioneering educator Lewis Dominis, who helped found the first all-black school band in Pinellas County.
Isaac and her students also wrote two books about the cemetery, including a brand-new one aimed at young readers who only associate graveyards with Halloween.
“Every one of these people had an impact on history,” says Nathan Campbell, a Boca Ciega senior who helped build the wooden placards that tell the rich history of Lincoln Cemetery in the walking tour.
For more information, visit www.lincolncemeterysociety.org .