At least 44 graves containing the remains of African-American bodies have been discovered under a Florida parking lot after the school district that owns the land learned of their possible existence and hired an archaeological firm to scan the site.
They were graves that had never been moved during the 1954 relocation of the cemetery in Clearwater, Florida.
A former cemetery worker, now 75, told WTSP-TV in December that the graves may not all have had headstones, so some might have been missed.
“Unless the grave was marked, or if there was some type of indentation in the ground, how would you know that a body was there?” Robert Young told WTSP. “So, that’s my thinking, that all bodies were not moved.”
The land has since been paved over as a parking lot, and is owned by the school district, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Cardno, the archaeological firm the district and the city hired, used ground-penetrating radar and identified 44 “grave-like anomalies” within the footprint of the parking lot and the school district building nearby, officials from the city of Clearwater and Pinellas County School District officials announced Friday.
The potential burial sites range from 2.45 to 5.62 feet below the surface, according to a letter from Cardo to the city obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
There also may be additional graves “beneath the footprint” of a nearby school district building, the company said.
This marks the third time since August that African-American graves had been lost in the area of Tampa Bay, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, activity planned for the site has been suspended. Plans that had been under way for affordable housing there are on hold while the community decides how to proceed, the Tampa Bay Times said.
Archaeologists with the University of South Florida are also working on the issue.
The archaeologists still have more work to do before finishing their final report by the end of March. For one thing, Cardno needs to validate the radar’s finding, which they will do by digging just close enough to the graves to confirm their existence without touching them.
“The report highlighted the need for continued investigation,” Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said at a news conference, according to the Tampa Bay Times, speaking alongside Zebbie Atkinson IV, president of the NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas branch and Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for Pinellas schools. “It’s an unfortunate situation that America has the history it has and has done very little if anything to make amends for the atrocities of the past. We need to work together to find the answer so all hearts are satisfied in the end.”
Yet another reminder of America’s brutal history and its treatment of Black bodies.