TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Whenever she can, Norene Copeland Miller seeks a bit of peace at Memorial Park Cemetery to visit her family. In between cars honking and birds chirping, she cares for nearly a dozen relatives lying at rest. But now she’s worried that peace may be permanently disturbed.
“Shame on the city of Tampa,” Miller said.
The city of Tampa lost control over the historic Black cemetery after being outbid in a blind bid auction.
“Are we discarding the Black community contribution in the city of Tampa?” Miller asked.
After the previous owner died and his heirs didn’t want the land, the city maintained it. The city then placed a lien on the property and foreclosed on it, intending to buy it, but their $9,000 bid to formally purchase the land was doubled by a private company.
Now, no one knows what the company plans to do.
“So the city allowed this property to go to a blind bid auction,” said Aileen Henderson. “Rolling the dice irresponsibly, carelessly hoping they would win that bid.”
Henderson is the founder of The Cemetery Society. She helps clean up the East Tampa cemetery — and others — a couple of times. She says the new owner has a lot on their plate.
“There are unmarked graves here,” Henderson said. “We speculate around 13,000 to 15,000. 13,000 to 15,000 unmarked graves.”
And of course, hundreds of marked graves, like those for Miller’s family.
“It makes me feel that we don’t count,” Miller said.
In a statement to 8 On Your Side, the city of Tampa said:
“There are several Florida State Statutes that protect and prohibit the disturbance of cemetery burial grounds. In addition, the City of Tampa has ordinances in effect governing the use and proper maintenance of any property located in the City. The City of Tampa hopes the new property owner of the Memorial Cemetery understands the historical significance of this property. We will closely monitor the Memorial Cemetery to ensure the new property owner is adhering to all applicable laws and that the property is respectfully and properly maintained.”Adam Smith, city of Tampa spokesperson
Miller hopes the city fixes the issue.
“It’s shameful that the city of Tampa did not let the community know,” Miller said. “But I hope they make it right.”
8 On Your Side reached out for comment to the company that now owns the cemetery, but have not heard back.