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Senate tentatively approves $100K for lost cemetery memorials

The memorials would honor the African American community.

Sen. Janet Cruz, Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson and Sen. Darryl Rouson are making progress on funding to erect memorials at two long-forgotten cemeteries in Tampa.

The trio successfully proposed an amendment to the Senate General Appropriations bill (SB 2500) that would set aside $100,000 for memorials at Zion Cemetery and Ridgewood Cemetery.

Both cemeteries served as burial grounds for the African American community during the segregation era. Graves at both sites have since been built over.

The amendment seeks funding to memorialize those buried at the locations and to recognize the importance of the African American community’s contributions both locally and statewide.

“Over the past year, I have been proud to work with our local and state leaders to correct historic wrongs as Florida has rediscovered and committed to the preservation of African American cemeteries throughout our state,” Cruz said. “While there is much collaborative work to be still to be done, I am grateful to have the opportunity to take this first step by setting aside funding specifically for Zion Cemetery and Ridgewood Cemetery Memorials in Tampa.”

“This will allow our community to begin healing from this injustice and encourage our state to take the necessary steps to memorialize all who have contributed to Florida’s history, particularly those whose vital contributions have been overlooked for far too long,” she continued.

The funding is also meant to compliment Cruz’s bill (SB 220) to create a statewide task force for the historic preservation of African American cemeteries and burial sites. While the funding amendment enjoyed initial victory Wednesday, Cruz’s bill appears stalled.

That bill cleared one of its three committees of reference, but has not been scheduled for its second stop as time winds down on subcommittee hearings. A similar bill in the house (HB 121) hasn’t been heard at all.

Both measures were borne of reports of dozens of lost or forgotten cemeteries throughout the state. The Tampa Bay Times reported Zion Cemetery and its hundreds of graves had been mostly replaced with an affordable housing apartment complex.

Later, Hillsborough County Schools discovered another African American cemetery on the grounds of King High School.

The Senate Budget amendment would provide funding to the Florida Department of State for a memorial at each of those sites. The Department would be required to work with local community stakeholders to create memorials that demonstrate the state’s commitment to honoring all who have contributed to Florida’s history and ensuring dignity and respect for the deceased.

“Restoring the honor and dignity to those who came before us is important to history and the descendants of those buried in these cemeteries,” Gibson said.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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