CLEARWATER, Fla. — He was just a teenager when he worked as an attendant and gravedigger for Larkins funeral home in Clearwater, but the memories 75-year-old Robert Young has could be key in the search for lost graves from an African American burial ground.
“Unless the grave was marked, or if there was some type of indentation in the ground, how would you know that a body was there? So, that's my thinking that all bodies were not moved,” Young said.
Back in the mid-1950s, the Pinellas County School District sold land near the city of Clearwater to build a segregated swimming pool for African Americans under the condition the city moved graves from a black cemetery at Holt and Engman, between Palmetto and Russell streets.
The district was looking to expand the Pinellas High School campus, which was adjacent to the cemetery.
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Larkins Funeral Home was contracted to relocate bodies from the cemetery in Clearwater to a location in Dunedin. Young was not working on the relocation project, but as a Clearwater native and graduate of Pinellas High School, he has vivid memories of the cemetery.
While the city commission meeting notes called for 350 to 375 bodies to be moved, Young believes there should have been a lot more than that.
“My thinking [is] more than 350 people would have died between whenever this community was established. Not all of them had to go into that cemetery. But again, it speaks volumes that this community had two cemeteries,” he said.
Another former cemetery site is believed to be near Madison and Gould, the current site of the FrankCrum staffing firm. The Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP has been working with the company to get the area searched with ground-penetrating radar.
Archaeologists from USF were at the site last week talking with neighbors who had recollections of the burial ground.
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For both of the sites, Young said he hopes memorials will be established whether bodies are found or not.
“We've not been counted," he said. "We've just been looked at as property that could be disposed of. African Americans who did not ask to come here, but were brought here and have paid a (sic) price to remain here. We have not been counted, we've been discounted.”
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