County Native Supports Pine Hill Cemetery Renovation: ‘History Is Hidden’ | Local News


Editor’s note: Due to a journalist error, this story has been corrected to state that Dr Devonte White is from Inverness. Additionally, White’s uncle, Charlie White, is still alive. The Chronicle regrets the errors.

It’s not hard to miss Pine Hill Cemetery.

Surrounded by the 22-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery near the corner of Hill Street and Line Avenue in south Inverness, the 1.8-acre grave of 322 known people has tried to stay noticed throughout its 131 years of existence.

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“You wouldn’t even know Pine Hill was there unless you had family there,” Dr Devonte White said. “It’s history, but I feel like the history is hidden, in the back.”

White can’t say how many of his own relatives are buried in Citrus County’s oldest African-American cemetery alongside the county’s other longtime surnames he grew up with.

“There are a lot of them,” he said. “We know every person here.”

This is the main sign for Pine Hill Cemetery in South Inverness, near the corner of Hill Street and Line Avenue.

For as long as the 29-year-old Inverness native can remember, White has seen a number of county residents and organizations preserve Pine Hill as best they can by weeding, mowing and tidying up spanish moss and fallen pine needles.

White stepped in to pick up trash and straighten graves with others before and after leaving his birthplace in 2010 as a graduate of Citrus High School to earn his doctorate and teach criminal justice at the University. Bethune Cookman of Daytona Beach.

It was only a few months ago that White noticed more was needed for the county-owned cemetery and its ‘striking difference’ to the Inverness-owned Oak Ridge cemetery in the side streets bordering Pine Hill .

“I wanted to know why we have two cemeteries on the same land but look totally different,” he said. “It’s not a big cemetery. Why is it not maintained as well as the huge cemetery there?

White is no stranger to grassroots action. He led the 2020 renovation of the Alexander Park basketball court in Hernando.

Hoops’ dream plays out with new Hernando court

Now he’s on a new mission to help bring attention, funding and movement to “beautify” Pine Hill, and he’s already reached out to county officials for support and guidance.

County Administrator Randy Oliver said county staff, who mow and maintain the Pine Hill grounds, would be willing to partner with White as they have done before.

“He did a phenomenal job with the basketball court,” Oliver said. “If he can achieve the same kind of thing, I think that would be a positive thing for the community.”

Pine Hill Cemetery 2

There are numerous unmarked limestone headstones in Pine Hill Cemetery, south Inverness. Dr Devonte White, pictured above, would like to work with the Citrus County Historical Society to identify those buried below.

White doesn’t want to be the only one suggesting improvements. He would like to hold town hall meetings with community leaders and elders who would know what is best for Pine Hill.

“They’ve earned the right to say, ‘Hey, this is what we should have,’ because they’ve been doing this longer than I’ve been alive,” he said. “I want to give a voice to the voiceless.”

White said he wanted to focus on planting better grass, paving the single dirt road through the cemetery and installing larger, additional signage to help direct lost motorists towards Pine Hill.

“A lot of times people walk past this thing and don’t even know it,” he said.

According to Chronicle articles citing the Citrus County Historical Society, a land permit for Oak Ridge was granted in 1889 to Alfred Tompkins, the founder of Inverness, assigning it specifically for the burial of whites only.

Shortly after its establishment in 1890, Pine Hill Cemetery became the final resting place for indigents and blacks. No matter who is buried at Pine Hill, White said, they deserve the same respect as those buried next door.

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“There’s no doubt that one cemetery is different from another,” he said, “and it’s been going on long enough that the voices of Pine Hill have fallen on deaf ears… so I want to be that spark.”

The lettering on many of the gravestone clusters at Pine Hill – a few simple limestone markers – has disappeared. White said he would like to work with the county historical society to identify unnamed graves.

Pine Hill Cemetery 1

Dr Devonte White gestures at the graves of his grandparents, Samuel and Blonese White, who were buried next to each other in Pine Hill Cemetery, south Inverness. White said his grandfather was the first African American from Citrus County to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps.

FR Kiye, who died in April 1919, has the oldest known burial. Other surnames in Pine Hill include: Bellamy, Ross, Thomas, Smith, Chester, Gibbs and Goolsby Jackson.

Samuel White, White’s grandfather and the first African American from Citrus County to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, was buried next to White’s grandmother, Blonese.

Antonio Hicks, the 16-year-old Citrus High School student-athlete who collapsed during football practice in late September, has been laid to rest in Pine Hill Cemetery.

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For many years until the 1980s, Eli White of East Dampier Street Funeral Home oversaw Pine Hill.

Inverness offered to take it back after the town was granted title as Oak Ridge Cemetery in 1981; however, local black churches took over instead.

After the teenagers used Pine Hill as a meeting place, the Citrus Garden Club adopted the cemetery in October 2001, where they have since held volunteer cleanups four times a year.

“The club quickly recognized the need for tender care,” said first vice-chairman Lesly Smith.

Smith said the first cleanup in November 2001 filled 28 large trash bags full of paper, bottles and other trash.

“It’s in our mission to beautify,” she said, adding that the public is invited to join the garden club for its upcoming cleanup on Nov. 10.

Club members, along with the VFW, also plant flags at Pine Hill graves ahead of Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Historic Inverness Cemetery gets a makeover

Downed tree branches littered Pine Hill in September, Smith said, but the cemetery’s appearance has since improved.

“It’s looking pretty good,” she said, suggesting White’s recent involvement may have already boosted the results.

Pine Hill, White said, is too important to ignore.

“It’s history, it’s history, and you can’t hide your history,” he said. “It’s historic for me, and something has to be done.”


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