Janet Cruz one step closer to establishing a task force to study abandoned African American cemeteries

Graveyards in cemetery Halloween composition day light
A similar effort last year died in the House.

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 222passed 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.

Researchers have already found death certificates for 382 people buried at the site between 1913 and 1920 as well as 120 coffins.

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.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell sponsored the House version of the bill, HB 37, which has been assigned to three committees.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


  • Phil Virta

    February 17, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    A “task force”? What an enormous waste of time and money. These people have been dead for years. If their survivors want to know more about them, they can do it on their own dime. It is by no means worth an expenditure of taxpayer’s money. There are far more worthwhile expenditures. This is merely a political stunt.

  • Sonja Fitch

    February 17, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    Honoring the truth and facts is important for all of our history. Vote Democrat up and down ballot for the elections in 2022!

  • Phil Virta

    February 18, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    But Sonja, “truth and facts” are antithetical to most Democrats. (Antithetical means mutually incompatible–as in Democrats and “truth and facts”). I just wanted to make sure that you understood what the word meant.

Comments are closed.


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