HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) —What started out as a beautification project is now a task to preserve Wimauma’s history and heritage.

A group of residents are discovering unmarked graves at an African American cemetery. They want the site to receive a historic designation.

Jackie Brown has discovered 30 unmarked graves, depressions in the ground found throughout the cemetery off Edina Street in Wimauma.

“This is the final resting place for someone right here,” she said.

There could be dozens or even hundreds more.

“African American people were here,” said Brown. “They are the ones that cleared the land for the railroad to be established. They are the one that cleared the land for the farms.”

Through Brown’s research, escaped slaves, railroad, sawmill and farm workers are among those who are buried here dating back to the late 1800’s.

“The fact that most survived to only be buried here, and then forgotten,” she said.

Preserving the cemetery is personal for Brown—her great grandfather is buried here.

“This is like a family reunion, only you have relatives that you show up that you don’t know that are here,” said Brown.

It’s not about what you can see, but rather what you don’t see.

“We would like to designate it as a historic site,” said Brown.

After Tampa’s Zion Cemetery was rediscovered, it prompted Rep. Fentrice Driskell to sponsor legislation creating the Historic Cemeteries Program and the Historic Cemeteries Program Advisory Council within the Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources.

“The goal is for communities like the one in Wimauma to be able to reach out to the historic cemeteries program and get the answers and resources that they need,” said Rep. Driskell.

The legislation includes an $1 million appropriation for research on abandoned cemeteries and for grants to help repair, restore, or maintain African American cemeteries. The bill has been signed into law by Gov. DeSantis and will go into effect July First.

“It’s been a really interesting way to bridge history with modern conversations that we need to have around race, community, and family,” said Rep. Driskell.

Brown said it’s been a long time coming.

“We really need to start telling those stories of what took place there because our history, especially here there’s no written history, our history here is lost,” she said.

Brown fears history could be erased if the cemetery isn’t preserved. It comes as new development could pave over unmarked graves.

“Now we are in a critical time. This is crunch time,” Brown said. “We have to identify if we do in fact, as we know, have graves.”