Sen. Janet Cruz’s bill creating a panel to study forgotten or abandoned cemeteries and burial grounds across the state flew through its first committee hearing Wednesday morning.
The bill, SB 222, passed unanimously through the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. The bill would create a Task Force on Abandoned African American Cemeteries.
“The purpose really is to develop and recommend strategies that will preserve the history and ensure that dignity and respect,” Cruz said in her committee presentation.
The Senate unanimously passed a nearly identical version of the proposed Task Force on Abandoned African American Cemeteries last year, but the House considered neither that bill nor its counterpart from the lower chamber.
The task force established by the bill would be led by the Secretary of State, who would also appoint representatives from the Bureau of Archaeological Research in the Division of Historical Resources, the NAACP, the Florida Council of Churches, the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, the cemetery industry and a local government. The Senate President and House Speaker would select one lawmaker each to round out the task force.
“We now have an opportunity to right this historical injustice,” Cruz said. “So I’m asking again, this year too, for your favorable support and creating a task force. We’re not asking for any money. We’re asking for a task force that will that will start to identify the abandoned cemeteries in Florida.”
Cruz also spoke briefly about the move last year to memorialize two abandoned cemeteries in Tampa. Lawmakers agreed and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a $100,000 fund for memorials at Zion and Ridgewood cemeteries in the Senator’s hometown. The House and Senate ultimately agreed to that expenditure after leaving it out of initial budget talks.
Zion Cemetery served as burial grounds for the African American community during the segregation era. The site now serves as a backyard to Robles Park Village public housing.
More than 3,000 abandoned cemeteries have been identified across the state, Cruz said last year.
Cruz’s bill now only has two more committees to go through before it’s ready to be heard in front of the Senate.