Educator Shannon Peck-Bart is taking a new step in the ongoing struggle to preserve historically Black cemeteries. Thursday, January 14, she led the first meeting of the African American Cemetery Alliance of Tampa Bay. This new coalition, made up of local activists, anthropologists and historians, hopes to share knowledge and resources between all those working to preserve local history and protect the resting places of the deceased.
“As you are well aware, the Tampa Bay area has recently experienced a profound awareness of marginalized histories reflected in the cultural landscapes of removed, relocated, destroyed, and marginalized African American cemeteries,” Peck-Bartle wrote in her initial proposal for the Alliance. “Each cemetery bears witness to individual and communal stories of the lived experiences of the African American community in Tampa Bay.”
In June 2019, the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation into the disappearance of Zion Cemetery, an African-American graveyard in Tampa that was paved over to build the Robles Park public housing complex. The piece spawned a wave of interest and investigations in other neglected historically Black cemeteries. Last year, the Gabber also published an eight-part series, “A Grave Situation,” about historically Black cemeteries in Pinellas County.
At the meeting, Peck-Bartle discussed her hope of creating a classroom resource to teach students about the history of racism, using local examples. The cemetery she is most involved with, Rose Hill Cemetery in Tarpon Springs, has a website with virtual tours and a page for lesson plans for teachers, which she added to the curriculum for her own classes.
Lucile Malone, secretary for state representative Fentrice Driskell, also attended the meeting, and discussed the new legislation Driskell and state senator Janet Cruz hope to pass this session. The bill, HB 37-2021, would create a task force composed of 10 individuals to investigate, review and propose strategies for preserving unmarked and abandoned African American cemeteries across Florida. According to Malone, the bill intends to set aside $400,000 for statewide research on the subject, and $50,000 each for the memorialization of Zion Cemetery as well as Ridgewood Cemetery, buried underneath King High School in Tampa. A similar bill died in the senate last year.
Dr. Antoinette Jackson, a professor and chair of the USF Department of Anthropology, spoke about her plans to launch a “Black Cemetery Network” website, providing an interactive map with the location, history and resources for each graveyard. The website would immediately focus on Tampa Bay area cemeteries, but Jackson hopes it will be used nationally, to also track cemeteries outside the state. Jackson hopes for a “soft rollout” on the site in February.