Abandoned Black Graveyards Bill clears house sign as 45 more unmarked graveyards discovered


representing Driskell Fenceit is The Abandoned African-American Cemeteries Bill was approved by another House panel on Wednesday.

the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously reported favorably on the bill, while praising the Tampa Democrat’s efforts to push for its passage.

“It’s been a labor of love over the past two years and it’s good to get things moving,” the committee chair said. Jayer Williamson, a Republican from Santa Rosa County. “I just want to say congratulations. You have done a great job on this issue over the past two years.”

Driskell’s Bill (HB 1215) would create the Historic Cemeteries Program within the Historic Resources Division. The office would focus on coordinating research, repair, restoration, and maintenance efforts in abandoned black cemeteries, but would also extend to all historic cemeteries. The bill seeks to staff the office with three full-time employees at an estimated cost of $200,000 per yearr.

The bill also calls for appropriations for grants to fund some of this work and creates an Advisory Board of Historic Cemeteries.

“One of the most exciting things about this bill is that it will create the Office of Historic Cemeteries within the Department of State that can help not just African American cemeteries, but all communities determine what to do when these types of graveyards are discovered,” Driskell said. “We can all understand heritage. We can all understand the lineage. We can all relate to how important it is to understand where you come from and the importance of preserving the sanctity of the dead.

Driskell’s bill passed its final committee stop the same day the University of South Florida’s Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences announced the discovery of 45 more unmarked cemeteries across Tampa Bay, 14 of which are black cemeteries.

“The recent discovery of 45 unmarked cemeteries reminds us that our work to preserve history and bring dignity to the deceased has only just begun,” Driskell said.. “I am proud of the efforts we are making at the state level to address abandoned cemeteries, and especially African American cemeteries that have been neglected, stolen, or abandoned. This is a pervasive statewide problem that requires the state to partner with local communities. »

Driskell worked on the bill for three years. The legislation recognizes that centuries-old discriminatory practices have erased huge swaths of Florida’s African-American heritage and history. In 2019, a Tampa Bay Times investigation led to the discovery of hundreds of forgotten graves under a Tampa public housing estate. The cemetery, Zion, was one of the first black cemeteries in Tampa. It was built in 1901 and by 1929 had been systematically expunged from city records, allowing the land to be developed without regard to the dead buried there.

Soon, other forgotten cemeteries intended to house Tampa’s black residents were rediscovered. Ridgewood Cemetery was rediscovered under King High School, and another cemetery is believed to be under part of MacDill Air Force Base. Others have been rediscovered around the Tampa Bay area and state.

Ridgewood and Zion are in Rep. by Diane Hart piece. Hart is the ranking Democratic member of the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Sad to say we were a forgotten people,” Hart said. “And that’s basically what happened at home. This bill will cover the entire state of Florida where you will be looking at cemeteries. And there’s a lot of graveyards under the buildings and that’s a very, very sad comment.

The bill is based on the recommendations of the Abandoned African American Cemetery Task Force, of which Driskell was a member. She also worked for two years to pass legislation creating the task force with the senator. Janet Cruz.

Driskell has received accolades from across the aisle for her years-long work on the issue of cemeteries, much like she did in the last legislative session when she was able to pass bipartisan reform of criminal justice.

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