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State funding could memorialize erased cemeteries, but some will need more

State lawmakers are asking for $50,000 for memorials at two lost Tampa cemeteries, but restoring the erased Zion Cemetery will take more funding and collaboration

TAMPA, Fla. — A new funding request making its way through the state legislature could appropriate $50,000 each for two rediscovered cemeteries in Tampa, but at least one will need more.

State senators Janet Cruz and Darryl Rouson made the funding request, which stems from a bill they worked on together after the cemeteries were discovered. 

"There were those who thought by building buildings, they could obliterate the memory, the dignity of people who were buried here,” Rouson told 10News in September. “But now that it's been discovered, we've gone to opportunity to memorialize."

A statement from Rouson’s office describes the memorial effort as follows:

"Abandoned African-American cemeteries throughout Florida continue to be uncovered, as evidenced by recent reports in Tampa regarding the former Zion Cemetery in Tampa Heights and the former Ridgewood Cemetery on the grounds of C. Leon King High School. 

"In an effort to ensure dignity and respect for the deceased, this project will dedicate funding to the Department of State so the department may create, place, and maintain a memorial at the site of the former Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa."

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

Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority said the money will help, but restoring Zion Cemetery will take a lot more. 

"The $50,000 will just get us a historical monument, a marker and some maintenance on that for a short amount of time. We need way more than $50,000 to preserve, long-term this area to make sure that it's never again in private hands so that it can be redeveloped,” Moore said.

Moore has been leading the charge on behalf of THA to rectify a historical wrong. After a whistleblower came forward with research, archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to detect nearly 300 graves from the forgotten Zion Cemetery. They found many of those graves on property belonging to THA. The rest were found on neighboring properties, including a towing lot. 

A report from Cardno, the firm that did some of the archaeology work, shows radar imaging of graves protruding from underneath buildings, suggesting to Moore additional graves are waiting to be found.

RELATED: Archaeologists detect more graves from Zion

"We think we've discovered the full content of Zion. And we have further discovered that the anomalies the bodies, the coffins literally go right up to the foundation of these buildings," Moore said. "So, we believe once we actually clear the land, and can actually scan the footprints of the buildings, we will find more."

RELATED: At least 115 more graves from Zion Cemetery found at Gonzmart property

THA has already moved dozens of families who lived in buildings at Robles Park Village that were on top of the cemetery.

Moore said the Zion discovery has accelerated plans to redevelop the entire 35-acre public housing site, which is burdened with poverty and crime.

RELATED: 21 families once living on Zion Cemetery are in new homes

"We've got the 35 acres that is Robles Park that needs to be redeveloped,” Moore said. “But we can't redevelop Robles Park and ignore this…piece of history."

The cemetery memorial funding request will be reviewed on the Senate floor Wednesday.

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. To read more about the search for lost African American burial grounds in the Tampa Bay area, head to wtsp.com/erased.

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