Gov. DeSantis signs measure preserving abandoned African American cemeteries

The new law will also shape local history curriculum for 'difficult but important conversations' in schools, one professor says.

Abandoned and threatened African American cemeteries are getting the protection of new state personnel dedicated to salvaging them from obscurity, according to a new law that Gov. Ron DeSantis has now signed.

The legislation (HB 49) is the result of a 2021 task force study that recommended the creating the Historic Cemeteries Program Advisory Council within the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources.

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. carried the measure forward.

The legislation calls for an appropriation of $1 million in nonrecurring funds and another $242,000 to pay for staffing the program with three full-time employees charged with carrying out several duties, including researching and identifying abandoned cemeteries, organizing a master list of cemeteries established at least 50 years ago and getting markers to indicate a place of eternal rest.

The measure also calls for a school curriculum so children will learn about these cemeteries.

The law expressly mentions cemeteries that are more than 50 years old. That goes back to the time when Jim Crow laws kept races separate, even in death. As a result, many of these Black cemeteries were on private property that changed hands without proper consideration that many people had been laid to rest there.

The problem came into focus when the Tampa Bay Times found in 2019 that the Tampa Housing Authority was built on top of Zion Cemetery, where nearly 400 people were buried.

Roberto Fernández III, an adjunct history professor at Florida International University, said he’s particularly excited about the way school curriculum will be involved as a result of the new law.

“These are historic sites and, to an extent, they do speak for themselves,” said Fernández, who specializes in studies of the African diaspora. “It’s an opportunity to have those difficult, but important conversations.”

Local history less than 100 years old tends to slide by today’s students, he says.

“The way history has been taught, we’re very national in view,” he said. “For Florida students, they forget that Florida was once part of the South and schools were segregated up until the late ‘60s, early ‘70s.”

On its way to becoming law, stories of forgotten cemeteries came from both sides of the aisle.

Republican Rep. Taylor Yarkosky of Montverde called it a humanitarian issue, not a partisan one, as he recounted how the Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorsville was discovered and is currently being restored in what is now Groveland.

“We’re excited about being able to bring some honor and dignity back to these folks who have been desecrated,” he said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Earl Pitts American

    May 26, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Good afternoon America,
    Great job Ron and legislature. This bill was from the heart. Allthough this landmark bill was based on Truth, Justice, and The American Way an unintended consiquence of this Bill of Love and From The Heart is that it’s passage into law will drive the Souls To The Polls to vote Republican in mass more than anything the Democrats can make up or try to trick America’s Black voters with ever again.
    This, America, is the tipping point.
    Earl Pitts American


    May 26, 2023 at 2:20 pm

    Sounds way too WOKE to me!
    What about all the White Cemeteries?

  • Assembling parcels

    May 27, 2023 at 10:42 am

    As with protecting lands around water, Ron is just assembling land parcels to be sold to the highest bidder in 2.5 years due to “budget shortfalls.” This is why he just signed the law making it nigh impossible to sue real estate developers, no matter how shady. It’s as blatant and obvious as Twitter Gonna Crash was. Ron and Casey are manipulators, but they definitely are not sophisticated ones.

    • Michael K

      May 28, 2023 at 9:57 am

      Yep. And New College is sitting on prime real estate. They are going to tear down historic I.M. Pei buildings for sports facilities that were never asked for, or needed, and will likely never be built.

  • Michael K

    May 28, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    DeathSentence has done more for these dead people than he has for those living.

Comments are closed.


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