Boca Ciega High School students launched their new book, “The Lincoln Cemetery Chronicles,” on Thursday, June 15, with a presentation and book-signing at the school, which is located just south of the historic cemetery on 58th Street in Gulfport.
The students’ teacher, Dr. Alicia Isaac, helped shepherd the project from conception to publication. In her opening remarks at the presentation, she called it “a robust work from a very dedicated group of students.” The book was researched, written, edited and proofread by BCHS students, who made it their mission to tell the story of the beleaguered cemetery – the final resting place for thousands, many of whom are African-American – and by doing so, participate in the ongoing process of restoring it to its former glory.
The students, Isaac said, “made it awesome to get up every day and work on this project.” Gesturing to the students sitting behind her during the presentation, she added, “You have greatness here in front of you.”
Isaac talked about how students helped clean up the cemetery and, in the process, uncover and preserve the stories of those who are buried there. Some of the more science-oriented students even used drone technology to conduct an aerial survey of the property and make recommendations for improving the layout of the cemetery, which was established in 1926 but, due to flooding and lack of proper management, had fallen into disrepair in recent years.
During their research, the class was in contact with Vanessa Gray, head of the nonprofit organization called Lincoln Cemetery Society, which has been spearheading efforts to clean up and restore the cemetery. The students’ research also explored controversies of the cemetery, including the dispute between Gray and Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg over ownership of the property. (For more information about the legal issues surrounding the cemetery, see prior coverage here.)
The presentation included remarks from members of the community whose loved ones are buried in Lincoln Cemetery. Gulfport resident Janet Harris, whose brother was interred in the cemetery 35 years ago, said, “We are thrilled that our young people are taking an interest [in the cemetery]. I used to worry about our future, looking at these kids, but now I have hope; now I have belief. There are so many people buried in Lincoln Cemetery who have impacted the lives of people in Gulfport and St. Petersburg, and their stories needed to be told.”
Following the presentation in the school’s Center for Wellness and Medical Professions auditorium, the event moved to the cafeteria, where attendees could buy books and have them signed by Isaac and her students. BCHS principal Michael Vigue said 130 copies of the book, priced at $14.95 apiece, were available; judging by the long line of people waiting to buy, it looked like they were in danger of selling out. After getting their books signed, attendees were then invited to share in a traditional community meal, or repast, free of charge.
For information about purchasing a copy of “The Lincoln Cemetery Chronicles,” visit bit.ly/2s19Kzb.