ODESSA, Fla — More than 70 years after the Keystone Memorial Park Cemetery for African Americans disappeared from Odessa, 91-year-old Curtiss Wilson of East Tampa believes graves are still there -- even though no headstones remain.
10News first reported about the forgotten Keystone Memorial Park Cemetery on Friday. It was an early 20th century African American cemetery that disappeared over time from its location along off Gunn Highway.
“I remember it just like it was yesterday,” Wilson said of a funeral for a loved one she remembers attending when she was just 9 years old. “I remember the dress that she had on, the funeral was held at the church, and then we went through most of the people who attended just walked from the church to the cemetery.”
Wilson said the property was at one time operated by the nearby Mount Pleasant AME Church.
"Most of our loved ones were buried at churches because we had so few cemeteries who allowed blacks to be buried in them,” she said.
Keystone Memorial Park was one of those cemeteries where African Americans could be buried. Death certificates and a 1940s document from the Florida Department of Military Affairs verify its existence, but today, it’s nowhere to be found.
Wilson said the cemetery disappeared sometime between the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The current property owner is a woman named Carolyn Wilson. She's not related to Curtiss, but she says she wants to memorialize the cemetery if bodies are there.
“That makes me feel really good to know that she feels that way, Curtiss Wilson said. “I think all of [the cemeteries] should be preserved...and not at our expense, either.
"Since we were not the ones who built around them and over them, I think that some money should be appropriated by the city or somebody to get these cemeteries back like they were."
Property owner Carolyn Wilson said she heard there might be a cemetery on her property. She said she tried to reach out to the AME church, but never heard back.
Carolyn Wilson said she is working with archaeologists in hopes of surveying the land. She said she would like to create a memorial to honor the cemetery and the people buried there.
“It’s a bad part of our history, but it’s history,” said Carolyn Wilson.
Watch more of Emerald Morrow's stories on the search for lost African American cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area here:
You can also read more at wtsp.com/erased.
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