Budget conference: Funding for African American cemetery memorials OK’d

Inclusion comes after funding was initially left out.

Sen. Janet Cruz, Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson and Sen. Darryl Rouson are celebrating a win on a pair of funding requests to honor late members of the Florida African American community.

Funding requests totaling $100,000 for memorials at two Florida abandoned cemeteries was included in the state’s budget Sunday as conferences continue.

The funding is also meant to compliment one of Cruz’s bill’s (SB 220) this year that would create a statewide task force for the historic preservation of African American cemeteries and burial sites. That bill unanimously cleared the Senate Monday.

“I am honored to have the support of my Senate colleagues in passing this important legislation. This task force will restore honor and dignity to all those who came before us. Florida’s history is incredibly unique. But it has been incomplete for too long. I am humbled to have the opportunity to advocate for those who have been forgotten from our state’s history and I look forward to seeing all of the great work this task force will accomplish,” Cruz said in a statement.

A companion measure is stalled in the House.

Two appropriations would allocate $50,000 each for memorials and historic markers at the Zion and Ridgewood cemeteries in Tampa. As of late Saturday, the requests were not included in budget offers, but that was amended Sunday.

The trio of lawmakers successfully proposed an amendment to the Senate General Appropriations bill (SB 2500) earlier in this year’s Legislative Session.

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

The requests claim the funding is necessary to “demonstrate the state’s commitment to honoring and respecting all who have contributed to Florida’s history.”

“African American cemeteries should be memorialized to ensure dignity and respect for the deceased,” the requests read.

The Department of State will oversee the process.

“Abandoned African American cemeteries throughout Florida continue to be uncovered, as evidenced by recent reports in Tampa regarding the former Zion Cemetery in Tampa Heights and the former Ridgewood Cemetery on the grounds of C. Leon King High School,” both requests read. “In an effort to ensure dignity and respect for the deceased, this project will dedicate funding to the Department of State so the department may create, place, and maintain [memorials.]”

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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