A city in Florida is coming to grips with its racist past as it reportedly paved over Black cemeteries rather than “relocate” them as they had claimed to at the time.
A 60 Minutes segment about the history of the resting places explains that during the 1950s, headlines announced that the city of Clearwater Heights made a deal on moving a “Negro” cemetery, where hundreds of African American bodies lay, to make way for a swimming pool. A department store was planned for the site of another Black cemetery, where again, the bodies were supposed to be moved.
According to O’Neal Larkin, however, the supposed relocation did not happen because it was contrary to what he witnessed with his own eyes.
"It's not an imaginary thing that I seen. It's what I seen with my own eyes," Larkin told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.
Larkin, 82, says that in 1984 he watched a construction crew dig a trench through the site of a “relocated” Black cemetery.
"But I remember the parking lot where the engineers-- traffic engineer was cutting the lines through," Larkin noted. "And they cut through two coffins. That was my first knowledge of seeing it because I walked out there, and I seen it myself."
During the first half of the 1900s, Clearwater Heights was a thriving Black neighborhood, which was proud and anchored by faith, CBS reports. But in death, much like most societal norms at the time, burial was segregated.
In 2019, the Tampa Bay Times reported that many of the segregated cemeteries in Florida had been paved, which then led the city of Clearwater to have them exhumed to finally figure out what happened.
Archeologists Rebecca O’Sullivan and Erin McKendry, who work for a company called Cardno hired to map the desecration, say they discovered 328 likely graves, many of which were under a parking lot. 550 graves are in the cemetery's record, but there’s only evidence of 11 having ever been moved during the 1950s.
"These individuals were loved. They were family members; they were fathers and mothers," McKendry told 60 Minutes of their findings, which began while using a ground penetrating radar over a segregated cemetery where an office site stands today. "And they were interred with love."
"People deserve to be treated with respect," O'Sullivan added. "That's the most important thing."
"So there may be hundreds of bodies still at that site?" Pelley asked.
"It's possible," O'Sullivan said.
In another cemetery not far away, McKendry noted that bodies were not removed to build a Black swimming pool and school.
Last year, after a prayer was said over the site, an excavation was launched and confirmed what the radar had suggested. Relics, including human remains, were discovered at the office building site and at the school, which had closed in 2008 because it was obsolete.
"All of the information and the data that we collected does indicate that there are additional burials likely below the footprint of that school building," McKendry said.
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