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Hillsborough leaders discuss next steps for forgotten African American cemetery at King High School

One-hundred and forty-five caskets were discovered in 2019 on the property of King High School in Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. — It was nearly a year ago when Hillsborough County school board member Tamara Shamburger made the announcement heard across the country.

One-hundred and forty-five caskets, holding mostly African American men, women and children were found buried on the property of King High School in Tampa.

The school district along with other county leaders took immediate action to face the harsh reality of yet another erased African American cemetery in their community.

Shamburger and others vowed to face this head-on: identify the people buried, try to find family, memorialize their lives and make this dark chapter part of the curriculum at King High School. 

Once the Florida Division of Historical Resources determined the state does not have jurisdiction over the cemetery, legal authority was turned back over to the district.

Hillsborough Schools launched the Historical Response Committee made up of teachers, historians, state representatives and religious leaders to determine the next steps for the erased Ridgewood Cemetery at King High.

On Tuesday, committee members talked about some ideas they have for memorializing the people buried on the property and incorporating the cemetery's history into the school curriculum.

Archeologist Shannon Peck recommended using the Rose Hill Cemetery Project as a template for what educators could do with Ridgewood Cemetery to embrace learning and even expand our knowledge and uncover more history about those buried there as time goes on.

Tampa Reverend Larry Roundtree is calling for individual markers to properly identify as many individuals as possible along with a memorial service to commemorate the burial ground. He'd also like to see a permanent gate around the area to preserve the land as a sacred place.

Others on the committee raised questions about official surveying to ensure boundaries and conserve the space in the future.

King High School principal Arlene Castelli is also on the Historical Response Committee. She shared that students and staff are eager to participate in recognition of Ridgewood Cemetery and expanding efforts to bring dignity to the souls of those buried there.

Shamburger is asking the school district to set up an e-mail address specific to Ridgewood Cemetery which will allow the public to offer input and ideas over the next 30 days. Shamburger hopes the committee can come up with a concrete plan by the start of 2021.

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