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Archaeologists chart path for 2 destroyed Black cemeteries in Clearwater

Archaeologists call for more ground-penetrating radar and physical searches to confirm presence of graves in destroyed segregation-era cemeteries.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — During a virtual community meeting hosted by the Clearwater/Upper NAACP, archaeologists with the University of South Florida and Cardno charted a path forward for two historic African American cemeteries that had been destroyed for redevelopment in the 1950s.

The St. Matthews Baptist Church Cemetery at the current site of the FrankCrum staffing firm and the North Greenwood cemetery at Holt and Engman were two segregation-era cemeteries developed for African Americans in 1902 and 1940, respectively.

By the mid-1950s, the St. Matthews Baptist Church cemetery, which was facing mounting financial pressure from the city of Clearwater, had been sold under pressure to developers who turned the property for a $95,000 profit. Eventually, the cemetery was destroyed and built over.

The city of Clearwater opened the North Greenwood cemetery in 1940 for African American burials but decided less than 20 years later that the cemetery should be moved to build a swimming pool for African Americans.

At both sites, graves were left behind despite the community being told graves had been moved.

Over the course of the last year, loved ones looking for their ancestors and members of a neighborhood group called the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee reached out to the NAACP and the Clearwater Historical Society for help.

The NAACP was able to coordinate meetings with property owners and archaeologists who used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the presence of graves. More roughly 70 graves were detected at the St. Matthews cemetery and more than 50 were detected at the North Greenwood site.

Monday night, archaeologists urged property owners to continue working with the community about what should happen with the burial grounds moving forward. They also said more work should be done for the historical record to physically confirm the presence of graves in the ground. 

If property owners move forward with archaeological work, the process of doing additional ground-penetrating radar scans and physical excavations could take at least a couple of months.

The Pinellas County school district and the FrankCrum staffing firm have yet to announce how they will move forward.

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