Budget conference: House negates Tampa Bay education program on erased Black cemeteries
Terry Ann Williams Eddon surveys the scene at Westview Cemetery in Pompano Beach

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Cemetery experts believe there are over 3,000 unknown cemeteries with erased local history.

The House has continued to hold out on an appropriation that would kick-start an education program on local abandoned African American cemeteries in Tampa Bay.

In the House’s latest PreK-12 Education budget offer to the Senate, House negotiators excluded the item, despite its presence in the original Senate proposal.

Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who have championed legislation to address abandoned African American cemeteries, filed the appropriation requests (SF 1469, HB 1134). The pair originally requested $1.2 million for the program, which the Senate halved for $750,000 in its initial budget.

The appropriation would be used to establish an education program in Tampa Bay on African American cemeteries. The program would “preserve local African American history and cemetery sites through place-based educational programming, curricular material to be embedded in K-12 classrooms, teacher professional development, and community workshops,” according to the requests.

The program also would encourage student and community collaboration and educate participants on contemporary local issues.

While the requested $1.2 million from the state amounted for the whole of the project so far, the requests suggest “in addition to state funding, the program will leverage support from community and private donors as well as state and federal cultural grants.”

The requests detail the division of the funding, with $400,000 to cover the cost of curriculum and teacher resource development materials; $300,000 for cemetery memorialization to include monuments, historic plaques, gardens and tour paths; $250,000 for staff salaries including a curriculum developer and four part-time graduate student assistants; and another $175,000 for archaeological consulting and cemetery preservation services. An additional $70,000 is planned to go to program travel and facilities.

According to the requests, some of the local cemeteries to be included in the program include the Whispering Souls African American Cemetery, Rose Hill Cemetery and the Zion African American Cemetery.

The requests also cite recent developments among experts who have studied the existence of the erased burial grounds.

In 2021, the state passed HB 37, sponsored by Cruz and Driskell, which established an African American Cemetery Task Force. That team explores the extent to which abandoned, neglected and erased African American cemeteries exist across the state.

Cemetery experts believe there are over 3,000 unknown cemeteries with erased local history, including eight recently discovered African American cemeteries in Tampa Bay, the request states.

The program cites support from Pinellas County Public Schools, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, Hillsborough County Public Schools, City of Tampa, Whispering Souls African American Cemetery Preservation non-profit, Rose Cemetery Association and the University of South Florida.

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]



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