PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — After a meeting with the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP, leaders with Pinellas County Schools have agreed to secure a firm to determine the presence of graves from a cemetery that once sat on district and city property.
District spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said the district hopes to hire a contractor who can use ground-penetrating radar to search the old Curtis Fundamental school property at Holt Avenue and Engman St.
That is the site of a former African American cemetery that was reportedly relocated decades ago.
“Since the moment we learned of the possibility of graves on the district and city property, we got to work. Staff started looking up old historical documents and maps and surveys which we provided to 10News," said Mascareñas.
“The plan is for this week to start researching and finding a company that specializes in this ground-penetrating radar testing that we can all approve of and get started on looking at that property both district and city-owned to see if that possibility of graves is still there.”
A group of neighbors with the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee first raised concerns to the Clearwater Historical Society and to local NAACP president Zebbie Atkinson IV. Atkinson has acted as a liaison between the community and the district.
He said he was pleased with the way the meeting went on Friday, and looks forward to uncovering the truth about possible graves.
A funeral home owner who once worked for the company the city of Clearwater contracted to move the graves said he also does not believe all the graves were moved.
He said it’s likely graves without headstones were never relocated.
Muhammad Abdur-Rahim of the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee said searching for possible graves is a necessary step in order for the community to move forward.
"What we're doing now is not only for our community to heal, but it's more so for our children not to ever forget what actually has occurred with our history. Especially with our ancestors just being disrespected and disregarded,” he said.
Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said the city wants to be a good partner in this search, and according to his records, there is confidence graves with headstones were moved.
While the question still remains if those without headstones still rest beneath the land, Abdur-Rahim said he’s glad the district is taking action.
“I certainly am pleased with the school [district] taking a position that they're taking to at least resolve the issue and then to have the healing process start for this community,” Abdur-Rahim said.
You can watch more of Emerald Morrow's stories on Tampa Bay's forgotten African American cemeteries here: