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Pinellas County school property in Clearwater could have lost black cemetery

Land for the cemetery once was sold to build a swimming pool, and 350 graves had to be moved. It's believed not all were relocated.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Clearwater NAACP confirms it is investigating the possibility of a second lost black cemetery in the area, this time on the property of a Pinellas County school.

It’s a story 10News has been looking into for weeks. Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP said research shows the cemetery could sit on property behind the Clearwater Intermediate School on Palmetto Street and adjacent to the old Pinellas High School along Holt Avenue. Pinellas High School served African American students through the 1960s. 

The building still stands but is not in operation.

Pinellas County Schools spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas confirmed district is looking into the issue, and also confirmed the Upper Pinellas NAACP has scheduled a site visit this week.

Atkinson added he has spoken with a school board member to see if the area behind the school can be scanned with ground-penetrating radar at some point in the future. It is unclear if or when that will happen.

Newspaper articles from the 1950s reference moving 350 bodies from an old graveyard in the area.

"It's only African American gravesites that actually get ran over or get bulldozed over or get plowed up,” said Muhammad Abdur-Rahim, the vice president for the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP.

Muhammad Abdur-Rahim said land for the cemetery in question was sold to the city to establish a "Negro" swimming pool, and in order for the pool to go in, the 350 graves had to be moved.

However, he and Atkinson said all of those bodies might not have been relocated.

"It was 350 that the city of Clearwater identified that was supposed to been moved. But most of the people realized that there had been a lot more bodies at that particular juncture in this particular area than 350,” said Abdur-Rahim, who is also a member of the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee. 

That group, along with the NAACP, is working to find lost African American burial grounds in the city.

“We have been in contact with a funeral director who was a gravedigger at the time when some remains were moved from the (Clearwater) Heights gravesite and to the best of his recollection, not all the remains have been moved,” Atkinson said. “I think what they were supposed to do was remove the ones that had headstones.”

Atkinson said many African Americans could not afford headstones, so those unmarked graves were likely not moved.

RELATED: No graves on tax collector property, but whistleblower insists they’re nearby

RELATED: Clearwater business will scan for graves from forgotten black cemetery

The NAACP is working with the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee on this issue; that group that is investigating a separate cemetery site on the FrankCrum staffing firm property along Missouri Avenue. The FrankCrum site will be scanned with ground-penetrating radar to search for graves. Archaeologists with the University of South Florida have agreed to assist in the search.

All the events are represented on the interactive timeline and can be visualized. You can review all the cause-and-effect relations of timeline

RELATED: Forgotten African American graves could be buried at MacDill Air Force Base

RELATED: 145 coffins found at King High School, part of an erased African American cemetery in Tampa

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com.

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