Janet Cruz joins Tampa leaders to honor erased College Hill Cemetery

college hill cemetery
College Hill Cemetery was used by pioneering Black and Cuban residents.

Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz joined several local officials Friday morning to unveil a new historic marker honoring a lost cemetery.

The new marker by Hillsborough County’s Historical Advisory Council remember the more than 1,200 individuals buried in what once was College Hill Cemetery.

The cemetery, which had burial sections for Tampa’s Cuban and Black residents, was replaced in 1941 by a parking lot for the Italian Club Cemetery, according to the Tampa Bay Times. There is no evidence that the bodies were relocated.

“The College Hill Cemetery, established in 1889, was likely the first burial ground dedicated to serving Tampa’s growing African-American population,” the plaque reads. The marker goes on to mention several prominent Black citizens who were laid to rest in the cemetery, including former Florida State Senator Robert Meacham, who served as an African American leader in Florida during Reconstruction after being born in Quincy as an enslaved person. Several members of the pioneering Armwood family, including educator, civic leader and attorney Blanche Armwood Washington, the first African American woman in Florida to graduate from law school, are also buried there.

The cemetery was also known as the Cottage Hill Cemetery and the Cuban Cemetery.

“Though used predominately by Tampa’s Black community, the cemetery was also the final resting place for a small number of White residents and Cuban immigrants, including well-known tobacco importer Salome Oliva,” the marker reads. “The history of the College Hill Cemetery was rediscovered following revelations about other predominantly African American burial grounds.”

The re-discovery of College Hill Cemetery is one of several recently found African American cemeteries in Florida that were previously erased or abandoned over time.

Several of the discoveries follow the signing of legislation (HB 37) carried by Tampa Democrats Sen. Cruz and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, which identifies lost cemeteries by creating a Task Force on Abandoned African American Cemeteries.

Abandoned and neglected burial grounds are not an emerging issue in Florida. According to a staff analysis, a burial ground task force mobilized by the Legislature in 1998 reported that 40% to 50% of the state’s cemeteries are neglected or abandoned. There could be as many as 3,000 unpreserved African American cemeteries in the state.

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]


2 comments

  • Bonnie Wilder

    June 20, 2022 at 8:37 am

    Kelly, are you aware that the FL State and local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution also have preserved old cemeteries everywhere? You might go to dar.org, & type in your zip code for a chapter near wherever you live to get more info or to ask for possible assistance by the State DAR? I am an associate mbr of the Fort Cooper DAR in Hernando, FL but a full member here in a Maine chapter where we reside in the summer/fall. If/when you make a connection, pls email me. NOTE: all of NSDAR chapters are
    NOT political in anyway, but Historic Preservation is one of our three purposes along with Patriotism and Education.

    Reply

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