The Lincoln Cemetery, in the midst of a grass-roots inspired restoration, earned a vote of continuing historical significance from the Gulfport council members during their meeting on August 2 and the $27,000 in code enforcement liens remains on the books as the city continues to maintain the property.
“The liens are not affected at this time,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly of the vote.
Regardless, congratulatory “thank you” declarations were numerous from council members and visiting dignitaries including U.S. Congressman David Jolly, R-District 13.
“I came for a special moment for the city – the Lincoln Cemetery resolution – to express my support,” he said.
Established in 1926, the cemetery contains graves of approximately 6,000 African Americans and over 1,000 are American armed forces veterans, according to the resolution. It is considered an historical treasure and covers nine acres at 600 58th St. S. Since 2009, Sarlie McKinnon III of St. Petersburg, whose father and grandparents are buried there, has owned the cemetery.
Its condition has deteriorated over the years due to lack of funding. Local Gulfport citizens, military groups, the city and now the local chapter of the NAACP are making efforts to recognize the significance of the property as part of an effort to improve it.
“I want to thank all of you for taking an interest in listening to the souls of the people who have come before us,” said Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, to the council members.
“It’s a long road ahead,” said Councilmember Yolanda Roman. “It’s a multi-year endeavor. And, we’ll get there. A resolution memorializes and documents for our municipality what we feel, what we believe and a message that we want to set forth to the community.”
“Thank you for the resolution. It’s very well written,” said Councilmember Christine Brown. “It’s very thought provoking.”
The resolution includes the names and brief biographical notes of 10 people buried there including Elder Jordon, Sr., a former slave and prominent area businessman who donated 26 acres to the city of St. Petersburg that is now the site of the Jordon Park Complex.
“I’m all in favor of this,” said Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich. “I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
“I remember when the property had just changed hands and we high hopes that there were going to be some good things going on there and that has not been the case,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “I want to thank the city staff that’s gone over there and collected debris piles, this council, the citizens for supporting the fact that we’ve chosen to continue doing the right thing by maintaining that property and the volunteers from military associations and local resident Vanessa Gray who have taken an interest. I hope this resolution, with the support of the NAACP, will add a little weight to our quest to see this taken care of properly over time.”
City Sewer Improvements Continue
Council members also approved a resolution adopting a multi-year sanitary sewer improvement plan that includes a $3.4 million dollar low-interest loan from the state.
“It’s a big step for this council,” said Don W. Berryhill, client advocacy associate and financial point person for the loan who is based in Tallahassee. It “is recognized throughout Pinellas County that you have the aggressive city trying to address your issues.”
Henderson agreed and said, “Absolutely. If we’re going to ask others to do the same, we have to have ourselves out there first. Put our money where our mouth is.”
Improvements throughout the city will continue to take place over the next five years.
Sanitary sewer systems are designed to last from 75 to 100 years and in some parts of the city, the system is nearing the end of its useful life span, according to city documents.