Years ago, well before I joined or volunteered there, I asked someone at the Gulfport Historical Society why the organization didn’t assist with Lincoln Cemetery.
“Well, that’s not our history,” came the answer.
Now, as the president of the society, I can tell you our current board and volunteers have long struggled with how best to help the families of the souls – and the souls themselves – buried in Lincoln Cemetery. The best answer I can give you is that there are no easy answers. Today, despite all recent efforts, the cemetery still struggles with unmarked graves, improper restorations, landscape neglect and legal issues.
None of this is the fault of the person currently charged with its care; managing a cemetery takes breathtaking amounts of work and money, even more so when the cemetery has suffered neglect for decades. With perhaps a handful of exceptions, people care enough to come out for an afternoon cleanup, but by and large, we only think about Lincoln during those cleanups or when it’s in the news. There’s too much to be done, maybe, or we feel like we don’t know how to make it happen. Where do we even start?
Understanding the history of the cemetery – and others like it – seems like a logical place.
This week, the only historian who has a complete understanding of Pinellas County’s history and has done the primary research on the historically Black cemeteries inside our county gives us the first of eight articles that take readers inside the heartbreaking history of these cemeteries.
Over the next eight weeks you’ll come face to face with uncomfortable truths about our not-so-distant past. We hope you’ll gain a new perspective on not only Lincoln Cemetery, but the cemetery at Tropicana Field (and the contention of many historians that bodies remain under the Trop), and other cemeteries of Jim Crow Pinellas County – and how a system perpetuated by white Floridians denied Black Floridians dignity in death as much as it is in life.
While I’m proud we’re running a series that should open some eyes, I’m not proud of the history the series describes. Real history often isn’t a feel-good experience.
I hope you take the time to read the series. It starts today in print and online at thegabber.com. And I hope, at the end, you’ll reach the same conclusion I have: The onus of making it right falls not on the families or heirs of those buried, but on the culture and the systems that created the situation in the first place.
Lincoln Cemetery, and all historically segregated cemeteries like it, are not only our history, they’re our responsibility.
Let’s be better than our history.