HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A new University of South Florida exhibit is exploring erased cemeteries, showcasing the discovery of 45 unmarked cemeteries and burial grounds in Hillsborough County.

Researchers spent three years searching for forgotten and erased cemeteries and burial grounds in Hillsborough County. The exhibit, “What Lies Beneath: The Search for Unmarked Burial Grounds in Hillsborough County”, shows their findings. The research project started in 2020.

“This is kind of like the lost heritage of the people and people’s ancestors,” said USF graduate student Liotta Noche-Dowdy.

“Forty-four percent are African-American, Afro-Cuban, or otherwise classified as colored, during segregation,” said Dr. Erin Kimmerle, an associate professor and forensic anthropologist with USF who helped lead the project along with students and other professors.

“I was contacted by a local property owner, who had recently also learned about an African-American cemetery on her property,” Dr. Kimmerle added. “We were also contacted by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners to work for them and try to locate any additional unmark burial grounds on county-owned property.

A large map of Hillsborough County can be found in the exhibit with pins showing where 45 unmarked cemeteries and burial grounds were located.

“The students have been integral in every part of it, from fieldwork, to archival research, and tracking down land, historical landings, to creating the exhibits and building them,” said Dr. Kimmerle.

Some sites are family burial plots that were forgotten after generations. Others are cemeteries that were in use until recently, and then removed, or erased.

“These graves, these are the final resting places of black people, many of whom were discriminated against their whole lives, including after their death,” said Fred Hearns Curator of Black History at the Tampa Bay History Center.

The exhibit is open to the public from  Sept. 15 through Jan. 30, 2024 in The Waterman Exhibit Gallery at the University of South Florida Social Science Building. More information is available on USF’s website.