TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill that will establish a task force to investigate and preserve abandoned Black cemeteries across the state.
Since 2019, at least nine abandoned and forgotten African-American cemeteries were discovered across the Tampa Bay area.
“It hurts, it makes me feel as though that you’re here, but you’re not really welcomed,” said Yvette Lewis, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People-Tampa Chapter.
It was the NAACP that pushed for action from the city of Tampa once hundreds of graves of African Americans were discovered at Zion Cemetery in Robles Park in 2019.
“Nobody wants to take ownership of so much negativity back then, but in order for us to move forward you have to heal the past,” Lewis said.
It was after close to 800 graves were detected under several housing units in Robles Park that led Tampa Democrats Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Fentrice Driskell to draft legislation in an effort to find and preserve these abandoned pieces of history. DeSantis signed that legislation last week.
“The intentional abandoning of these historically African-American cemeteries is a continuation of the dark legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in our country and state,” Cruz said. “To finally address this issue directly, even incrementally, is an immense step forward.”
The task force will have 10 people on it. They will determine how many lost cemeteries are across the state, find out where they are located, and come up with ways to identify those buried and record the people.
“There are new cemeteries being found daily,” Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-District 19, said. “What we’ve learned is that we cannot run away from our collective history, or worse, force our history off the pages of time. There are those who thought building buildings and building roads could obliterate the memory and dignity of those people and those families that were buried there. This bill is a testament that this should never happen again.”
With this new state legislation in place, Lewis is hoping the city of Tampa will take more action toward recognizing and preserving the many abandoned Black cemeteries.
“The city of Tampa, it is time for you to wake up and it is time for you to step up and write this wrong part of history,” Lewis said.