TAMPA, Fla. — (WFLA) – Hillsborough County school officials are investigating claims of an undiscovered cemetery for indigent African Americans on or near the grounds of King High School.
The information was brought to the district’s attention on Thursday. The area in question, which houses the school’s ag programs, has been cordoned off and activities relocated.
Local historian Ray Reed notified the district after stumbling upon what he calls evidence while researching another project.
“I would bet my life on it, that it is Ridgewood Cemetery,” he said.
The district immediately began researching after hearing Reed’s concerns. Superintendent Jeff Eakins called solving this matter the district’s “top priority.”
“We will show the highest level of respect for the individuals who may be buried in this cemetery, and their descendants,” Eakins said in a press conference.
The school district says the information they have so far is conflicting about where exactly the cemetery is and whether it is on school property.
Historical records show a cemetery called Ridgewood at 56th and Sligh Avenue, a pauper’s cemetery for African Americans in the 40s and 50s.
King High School opened in 1960.
School board chair Tamara Shamburger pointed out discrepancies in property records during Friday’s press conference.
A deed from 1959 mentions a pauper cemetery on the parcel that the deed owner assumes responsibility for. However, a property appraisal from that same year places a “potters field” just to the east.
Reed chalks that up to a clerical error in the 1959 appraisal documents.
“If the bodies are there, and I believe they are, I hope they’ll be treated with dignity and respect,” Reed said, adding that he hopes it can become a teachable moment for the school and district’s students.
The NAACP is monitoring the situation and local chapter president Yvette Lewis said if a cemetery is found, they will hold the county responsible.
The district said surveying equipment will be on-site first thing next week to began examining what could be under the earth.
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