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Towing company unsure of future after learning of 55 graves on property

Sunstate Wrecker Service wants help from the city of Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. — Fifty-five graves from an erased African American cemetery were found underneath a towing lot in Tampa. It’s a circumstance archaeologists and historians say is deeply rooted in racism, and those impacted by those decisions want someone to make it right.

"They're going to have to take some responsibility,” said Tony Huffman, general manager at Sunstate Wrecker Service.

But who is ‘they?’ and what will ‘they’ do?

"I couldn't begin to tell you which agency ultimately will have jurisdiction over this, so we're just doing business as normal,” said Huffman.

For a moment, there were informal talks of a land swap, but that never went anywhere.

“That's something we would like to see happen, we think it would be in the best interest in the city and us to move forward with that. But ultimately, it's something the city will have to decide if they want to pursue,” said Huffman.

Councilman Orlando Gudes said any land swaps would have to go through the city council, and there are no proposals just yet.

RELATED: More graves from erased Zion Cemetery detected under towing company lot

Tampa Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Leroy Moore said his agency will likely continue taking the lead on writing this wrong. THA owns more than half of the 2.5 acres that comprise the forgotten cemetery, which is believed to be one of the first African American burial grounds in the city.

The housing authority has already started moving people in its Robles Park Village property who live in buildings on top of the cemetery. Moore says THA will reach out to the towing company within the next few weeks to have a conversation with the owners about where to go from here.

RELATED: Faces of Robles: How living on a forgotten cemetery changed their lives

"Ultimately, the people who are in power today had nothing to do with this. They've been given a mess to straighten out. We certainly want to give them the time to investigate everything, to make sure any deal that's made is right for the city and us as well,” said Huffman.

Huffman also noted there is one other property owner impacted by the cemetery discovery. Businessman Richard Gonzmart owns land on top of the cemetery. Archaeologists recently scanned his property for graves; he has not yet released those results.

RELATED: How law brings medical examiners into forgotten cemetery investigations

You can watch more of Emerald Morrow's stories about Tampa Bay's forgotten African American cemeteries here:

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