CLEARWATER, Fla. — Archaeologists on Monday began digging to confirm ground-penetrating radar results that showed about 70 graves from an old African American cemetery, located on the FrankCrum staffing firm property off Missouri Avenue and Pierce in Clearwater.
“...They might have been forgotten, but they're being brought back to memory and brought back to life and I believe now we're at a point where there ain't no stopping us now,” said Carlton Childs who believes he has loved ones buried in the cemetery.
The excavation comes after more than a year of research by archaeologists with Cardno and the University of South Florida, the NAACP, and the local community.
After a similar discovery of nearly 300 graves from Zion Cemetery in Tampa and other locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, members of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood began coming forward in early 2020 with recollections of an old cemetery that once belonged to the nearby St. Matthews Baptist Church.
“Now's the time. It is time for the reckoning,” said Barbara Sorey Love of the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee, a group formed to share memories of their former segregation-era African American neighborhood.
St. Matthews Baptist Church purchased 2.5 acres of land in 1909 for an African American cemetery that served the area until 1955. Some remains from that cemetery were moved to the old North Greenwood cemetery at the site of the old Curtis Fundamental School at Holt and Engman in Clearwater. Archaeologists recently confirmed 54 graves at that site.
At the FrankCrum site, archaeologists are only digging in small selected areas. If excavations reveal signs of human remains in any of the test areas, it will confirm the presence of graves in all areas, and no further digging will be necessary. Crews are expected to be at the site for about one week.
“We're going to uncover this thing and give our loved one the proper dignity and honor that they deserve,” said Childs.
FrankCrum management has not yet said what will happen at the site if graves are confirmed on property. The local NAACP hopes the company will work with the community and the city to find a solution.
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