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Statewide task force set to search for destroyed, abandoned African American cemeteries

"There very well could be 3000 abandoned cemeteries in our state," Sen. Janet Cruz said.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A statewide task force convened this week to lay the framework to find and memorialize abandoned, destroyed and erased African American cemeteries.

"There very well could be 3000 abandoned cemeteries in our state,” state Sen. Janet Cruz said.

Cruz spearheaded the effort to create the task force that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month.

The group will have until January to turn in a report to the governor. Over the next few months, members will start researching lost Black cemeteries statewide and make recommendations — including possible legislation — for restoring or memorializing them.  

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"History is so very important to help provide us with context to give us a sense of place. And I think it also bears so much weight on understanding maybe some of the issues that we go through present day,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell said.

The task force was inspired by the discovery of hundreds of graves under Robles Park in Tampa. Since that discovery in 2019, several other destroyed Black cemeteries in the area have been uncovered.

"It is so important that we know where we're coming from, so we know where we're going," said Yvette Lewis, the president of the Hillsborough NAACP.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10TampaBay.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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