District officials in a Florida county say they have found evidence suggesting that a lost African American cemetery existed on the grounds of what is now a local high school.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that officials in Hillsborough County say that ground-penetrating radar scans of the areas surrounding King High School indicate that dozens of coffins, as many as 145 in total, could be located underground.
Officials participating in the investigation say that the coffins may be the long-lost Ridgewood Cemetery, a predominantly African American cemetery operated by the city of Tampa between the 1940s and 1950s to bury those without means of affording other burial services.
“The city of Tampa — and Hillsborough County itself — has pretty much erased and eradicated African-American history,” Yvette Lewis of the Hillsborough County NAACP told the Times. “Now we feel as though our ancestors are coming back and talking to us and saying, ‘Hey, tell our story.’”
A second possible site at nearby MacDill Air Force Base is also being investigated, according to the Times.
State Sen. Janet Cruz (D), who represents part of Hillsborough County and Tampa, told the newspaper that the discovery was proof of the need for local officials to ensure that all Floridians were properly cared for after death. Cruz is behind an effort to launch a task force to identify unmarked African American cemeteries in the state.
“This discovery at King High School is another example of how we must all work together to honor and memorialize every person who has contributed to Florida’s history, and particularly those who historically have been forgotten,” she said.