CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Descendants of those buried at a Black public cemetery gathered in Clearwater to unveil a historical marker on Saturday.
The Clearwater African American Memorial Committee and Pinellas County Historic Preservation Board held a dedication ceremony for the new Florida Historical Marker for the North Greenwood Memorial Cemetery. The dedication comes three years after dozens of unmarked graves were found at the site, now home to the shuttered Curtis Fundamental School.
The cemetery was created by a city resolution in 1940, designating a 1.5-acre plot of land for a segregated cemetery. The resolution stated, “…no burials of Negroes shall be permitted in Clearwater other than on the described property”, which would become known as the “Clearwater Colored Cemetery”, the marker says.
The city and school board began exploring other uses for the land in the late 40’s. They sought the creation of a new school and a location for a for a “permanent Negro recreation area” with a pool, gymnasium and ball field.
In 1954, the city agreed to relocate the graves as part of a land-swap arrangement. The cemetery site would be given to the school board in exchange for land to build the pool.
A work order was approved to move “no more than 375 bodies” to the current site of Parklawn Memorial Cemetery, east of Dunedin. Palmetto Elementary School (later called Curtis Fundamental School) was constructed on the site of the cemetery in 1962.
Over five decades would pass before archeologists made a shocking discovery: at least 55 unmarked graves were discovered at the site of the cemetery. In 2019, the county began looking into historical records and archeologists used ground-penetrating radar to search the area.
The marker says the site, “reflects the history of the African American community with burial customs that can be traced back to the time of enslavement.”
“Over the years, loved ones left items on graves like coins, glass flower vases, and conch shells as acts of remembrance,” the marker reads. “Though no longer visible, these artifacts and the many graves where they were placed remain here in areas on both sides of Holt Avenue.”
The county said the cemetery continues to be a sacred ground for African American residents of Clearwater.
“You can’t hide history,” said Lois Sailor Bell, a North Greenwood Cemetery committee member and the descendent of a person buried there. “The truth is going to come out.”
Bell said the marker is an important step in preserving the legacy of the neighborhood for current and future generations, who otherwise wouldn’t know the cemetery was there.
“It’s important. We grew up here. This is all we have,” Bell said. “What they took from us … that’s robbery.”
John Barie, Vice Chair of the Pinellas County Historic Preservation Board said the marker is part of a program to draw attention to county history that has been overlooked throughout the years. He said the board is seeking input from the community to identify more historical sites that are worth recognition.
To contact the Historic Preservation Board, visit their website here.