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.”
I had the solemn privilege this morning to honor the 1,200+ lost souls laid to rest in the College Hill Cemetery as we placed a historic marker in their memory. Let us all take time to recognize the Black and Cuban residents who have been erased from history. pic.twitter.com/L53QKDm0u7
— Janet Cruz (@SenJanetCruz) June 17, 2022
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.