A school district in Florida has discovered that part of a high school is built on top of an African-American cemetery that had all but been forgotten to history.
Leaders from Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla. announced Wednesday that there are about 145 coffins buried 3 to 5 ft. beneath King High School. The school district said historical city and genealogical records suggested that Ridgewood Cemetery, an indigent cemetery that spans one acre, was on the property of King High School.
Last month, cemetery researcher Ray Reed alerted officials to a possible cemetery on school property, the Associated Press reported. The district noted that “within days” it hired geophysical technicians to map and scan parts of the campus. “They found clear evidence of burials” on the southern edge of campus, the district said.
There are agricultural lab facilities and one building in the area, which has been fenced off since last month. The school district has said it is “making plans to remove that building.”
District officials said they were acting in accordance with state law and notified the county medical examiner and state archaeologist about their findings, adding that those agencies will have 30 days to review the findings before deciding whether to keep the land or turn it back over to the district. They said that the district “remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there” and are prepared to discuss “proper ways to memorialize” them, as well as taking care of the space, if the land is turned back over to them.
Historical records indicate there should be between 250 and 268 burials at Ridgewood Cemetery—about 100 more than what the school district estimated in their findings, the district noted. District officials explained the discrepancy, suggesting that many of those buried in the cemetery—”possibly as many as 77—were infants or small children” whose smaller coffins may have been harder to locate through scans. Some coffins may have decayed underground, while other individuals could have been moved to another cemetery, the school said, adding that “radar technology is good, but not perfect.”
This is the second time in less than three months that a historic predominantly black cemetery has been discovered in the Tampa area. In August, archaeologists found almost 130 coffins from the Zion Cemetery under a section of housing projects in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
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