Bill proposes creating task force to study Florida’s abandoned Black cemeteries

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bill to create a task force to study how many abandoned African American cemeteries exist in Florida cleared another hurdle on Tuesday.

The bill died in the House last year, but given all that has happened in the last year, including George Floyd’s death, lawmakers are hoping for another chance.

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If passed, members of the task force would recommend strategies for identifying, recording and memorializing the abandoned cemeteries.

Last year, two lawmakers pushed the bill to study how many abandoned Black cemeteries still exist in the state after the discovery of Black cemeteries in Tampa.

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Several of those in Tampa had been buried or paved over by apartments and roads, the most notable being the Zion Cemetery.

Rep. Fentrice Driskoll said it happened after land deals disregarded those who were buried there.

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When a task force on abandoned and neglected cemeteries was formed more than two decades ago, it projected there were 1,500 lost African American cemeteries in the state.

Now lawmakers project that number is closer to 3,000.

But officials said it’s hard to tell until a better look is taken across the state.

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The previous issue with the bill was the cost, but now the University of South Florida and FAMU have said they would step in to identify the next of kin of those deceased.

With that news in mind, the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Committee gave the bill the OK to move on.

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“We definitely would like to form that task force and see ...that we do care,” Rep. Dianne Hart, Tampa (D) said.

The task force established by the bill would be led by the secretary of state, along with a member from the NAACP and local governments.

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.