Lake County

Groveland works to restore the community’s original Black cemetery

GROVELAND, Fla. — In rural Groveland, it’s not unusual to find dirt roads that lead to old properties, including homes, churches, storage areas or farmland.

One dirt road leads to an old overgrown cemetery that time had all but forgotten. Some of the people laid to rest at the site are soldiers from World War I, and all have different stories but one thing in common: they’re all Black.


The old cemetery was the only place Black people could be buried for decades when they migrated to the area that was then called Taylorville.

What’s happening in Groveland right now is doing more than restoring dignity to this site; it’s bringing a community together that’s been scared by racial tension.

“I am originally from Groveland. I was born right here in this town. Groveland at the time I was born was mostly a sawmill town, two to three hundred Blacks in the whole town,” Samuel Griffin told Channel 9 investigative anchor Daralene Jones.

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The Black people buried in the cemetery came to Groveland in the early 1900s from southern states to work the orange groves, and sawmill and turpentine industries. When they died, this cemetery was only burial option. That includes Samuel Griffin’s uncle, an Army corporal who fought in World War I.

“Very, very few people even know this cemetery is here. And all the old people that used to know about this cemetery, they’re gone, they passed on,” Griffin said.

The city’s fire chief and human resources director are now leading a project to restore the acre of land, which is surrounded by residential development. The state committed a half a million dollars to cleaning up the land that’ll be known as the Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville, which is what this area was called before it became Groveland.

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Both city administrators volunteered to lead the project when the city manager learned about the availability of state funds, which held up at least three previous restoration efforts.

“All the people you’ve seen here, and many others have been out here helping us get to this point of what you see now behind us. It doesn’t look like a whole lot now, but if you saw what it looked like in the beginning, you would see how much progress we’ve made,” Fire Chief Kevin Carroll said.

Carroll believes there were more than 200 people buried on the site.

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“I think we have over 180 death certificates or more. If you were African American in this area and during the 1800s to the 1940s, you were likely buried here until they opened the second African American cemetery. They were members of this community. These people were the workforce. It was on their backs that things got done in this community back in the day, and to leave this cemetery in this deplorable condition, it’s not going to happen,” Carroll said.

Every Friday, the chief and volunteers are out moving the large trees that once hid the site.

The death certificates offer clues as to how some of the dead ended up there, many at a very young age.

“There’s a lot of people that died from diseases that people just shouldn’t die from today. I mean, if you can think of somebody dying from a niacin deficiency, I had to look up one of the illnesses on the death record and saw it was simply death from not having the right food to eat. Again, it brings sadness to you when you think, ‘Would we ever allow someone to die from starvation?,” Carroll said. “When you start looking at how these people died and some of the violence that occurred and some of the things I like to call, that people died under very strange and odd circumstances, it weighs heavy on you. I can’t imagine that because of the color of your skin that we see people in a different light.”

As Carroll worked to solicit community members’ input on how to name the cemetery, he also gathered input on the name of the cemetery. They’ve held several community meetings.

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“Everybody respected each other’s color. Everybody respected each other’s political affiliation, which had no part of any of this. It was a community-unifying project to do what’s right for this cemetery, and great conversations during those meetings,” Carroll said. “It was decided that we would keep the original name Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville. And everybody was on the same page of what this should look like at the end. And some of the things were a beautiful arched entrance coming into the cemetery with the name of the cemetery on it, a beautiful fence with columns.”

There’s another part of the story that is equally gratifying to Carroll, who is white. He’s developed a very strong relationship with Samuel Griffin and his family.

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“One of the things that I embraced when I came here was Pastor McCoy from Hope International Church. He asked me on a community spotlight night to come speak to his congregation, and one of his other pastors in a church said, ‘If you are worried about not interacting or being friendly with somebody because the color of your skin, I believe you are missing out on meeting some amazing people in your lifetime’ and one of the most amazing people I have met in my lifetime is Sam Griffin and the Griffin family,” Carroll said. “Amazing individuals. That man that you interviewed here just a short time ago makes me want to be a better person and strive to be a better person. He’s not my friend anymore. He is my family.”

When the work on the cemetery is finished, the hope is that it shines a light on the significance of the people who are buried there for children in the community and even lifelong residents. A light that reveals the significance of the people who came here, who built a life, and who almost faded out of memory.

“Now I can have an idea of what Groveland was all about and some of the people that was in Groveland. Even though I’ve been here 77 years I’m able to understand more about it now than I was the time I was here,” Griffin said

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