TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In 1933, the City of Tampa purchased a 40-acre plot of land and set aside five acres for a cemetery.
According to documents the cemetery was used in the 1940s and 1950s to bury African Americans and some of the city’s poor.
The land was eventually sold to a developer, and all traces of the cemetery were erased.
“The land was stolen from the African American owner and it was sold by someone within city government,” said Yvette Lewis the President of the Hillsborough County Chapter of the NAACP.
The cemetery was forgotten until former Hillsborough County Employee Ray Reed found documents indicating more than 250 people are buried near the current location of King High School.
“Ray Reed is a hero. Ray Reed is that voice that spoke up and kept speaking and kept speaking until someone actually listened,” said Lewis.
Reed says he was doing research on another forgotten cemetery when he found handwritten minutes of a Hillsborough County Commission meeting about the cemetery.
Reed says Nick Nuccio—who was then a County Commissioner—mentioned the cemetery during a meeting. When he became mayor, Nuccio then sold the plot of land where the cemetery is located.
“He knew about it, it’s disclosed in the deeds,” said Reed.
After Reed brought the records to the Hillsborough County School District, they began an investigation. The investigators used ground-penetrating radar to locate more than 145 burial plots.
The district later appointed a Historical Review Commission to find the best way to memorialize the cemetery.
“Now that we know, how do we protect? Not just the ground, but how do we teach? Not just for those of us who are here today, but for generations to come,” asked Bob Morrison, a member of the commission.
On Monday, a new historical marker and sculpture were dedicated at the cemetery.
“Today we honor the 250 African American men, women and children that are buried here. May they finally be at peace,” said school board member Shake Washington.