Lost African-American cemetery in Tampa to be memorialized during housing redevelopment

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — An African American cemetery left forgotten for decades will finally get new life.

More than a hundred graves at Zion Cemetery in Tampa are reportedly buried where the Robles Park Village apartment complex is located.

When the property is redeveloped, the plan is to build a memorial to help remember who and what was lost.

The Tampa Housing Authority held a press conference Tuesday to announce the master redevelopment plan of the public housing complex.

The plan will replace 433 units with more than 1,000 units. About 85% will be affordable housing for rent.

Historians say lives were erased when developers built the Robles Park Village apartment complex over Tampa’s first African American cemetery, Zion Cemetery.

“It’s very sad, it hurts that our ancestors were displaced and no one said anything about it, about building over it,” President of the Robles Park Tenant Association Reva Iman said. “I ran across tombstones I used to show the property manager.”

The cemetery was discovered only a couple of years ago. It raised important questions, like how did it happen. Iman believes this is a start to move past those mistakes.

“It’s knowing that they had no part but they want to correct it,” Iman said. “They’re giving themselves to make things right.”

8 On Your Side reported last year that the city, county and state put in 50,000 each to remember those buried in the cemetery.

Executive Director with the Tampa Housing Authority Jerome Ryans hopes if other cemeteries are identified throughout the community, they can create an interactive museum in one central location.

“It is something I am deeply concerned about, we have to maintain it and makes sure people know what happened there,” Ryans said. “Our history is important, and we have to maintain it.”

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