The state decided it would reserve $30 million from the American Rescue Plan to create the “Abandoned African American Cemeteries” task force.
The unit was created last year after community outrage was spurred by the discovery of a lost Black cemetery under a downtown office building in the city of Clearwater, west of Tampa. They aim to properly pay respects and provide dignity to those forgotten and mishandled after their deaths.
Because many local figures are continuously unearthing lost Black cemeteries, the state of Florida is addressing the public’s outcry with the $30 million in refurbishing funds.
The abandoned Lake County burial ground set to be reinstituted was found right underneath someone’s backyard and was called the Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville. Groveland used to be known as Taylorville until 1922.
“The best to our knowledge, we know it started around 1895 and the 1900 area,” said Groveland Fire Chief Kevin Carroll. “As legend goes, Mr. [Elliott] Edge donated a 1.25-acre piece of land to the African American workers here to go ahead and bury their loved ones.”
Edge was allegedly one of the first settlers of Taylorville.
“Mr. Edge had all of these files of who was buried in this cemetery in a box in a barn,” Carroll said. “But it was being eaten by the rats… So a lot of what we’re trying to find and uncover… you almost have to be a detective.”
There were about 70 souls laid to rest in the cemetery, including a headstone inscribed with: “Henry Spellman, a World War I veteran.”
Even with the nearly $500,000 the town received, this single project will take years and countless hours to remove invasive species and trees that have covered the land over the century.
The town may sound familiar because of the Groveland Four; four innocent Black men by the names of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who were accused of rape by a white woman in 1949 and subsequently lynched. They were exonerated last November, 72 years after their deaths.