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The Black Cemetery Network is holding an event to raise awareness of Black cemetery erasures

Workers dig up a gravesite
Jeff Moates/ University of South Florida Department of Anthropology
Construction workers in Clearwater dig up a site 2021

"Grand Rising" will include displays of the Black Cemetery Network's research and documentation, as well as performances by artists and dancers.

In 2021 and 2022, almost 400 graves and grave shafts were found in a pair of "forgotten" Clearwater cemeteries.

While around 30 grave shafts were discovered at the North Greenwood Cemeteryin the Clearwater Heights neighborhood, about 360 graves were found in the lost St. Matthews Baptist Church Cemetery along Missouri Avenue.

To honor the legacy of those who were lost — and to help inform people about the issue and how they can get involved — the Black Cemetery Network is partnering with Clearwater organizations on an event April 11 called "Grand Rising."

Antoinette Jackson, the founder and director of the Black Cemetery Network, said that the gathering will feature a number of activities to entertain and educate the community,

"People will get an informative and also exciting connection with the community and the people buried there," Jackson said. "They will also get spoken word, artists, dance, visual art and those kinds of connections to the information, as well as research and documentation."

READ MORE: See WUSF's coverage of Tampa's "lost cemeteries"

"ART OVER Erasure" was a similar event held last November to bring attention to three other "forgotten cemeteries" in St Petersburg.

Jackson said that both events show the families of those buried in these cemeteries that they are recognized and that people are fighting for the issue to be resolved.

"It's very important, and very relevant that we recognize these sites," said Jackson. "They are not only sacred sites, but also sites of history and information connected to the entire community."

The Black Cemetery Network has recently been recognized on the state level with a House bill sponsored by Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, that acknowledges the needed preservation of historic African American cemeteries.

If it passes, the bill will create the Historic Cemeteries Program within the Florida Department of State and fund three new full-time positions dedicated to historic cemetery preservation. It would also delegate $1 million for grants to communities and groups throughout Florida that research, restore or maintain these cemeteries.

Thomas Ouellette is is the WUSF Rush Family / USF Zimmerman Radio News intern for spring of 2023.