TAMPA, FL – In its ongoing efforts to protect historic burial sites that have been forgotten or abandoned, the City of Tampa has announced that it is taking over the maintenance of Memorial Park Cemetery in East Tampa.
“Protecting forgotten, abandoned or vulnerable cemeteries is the right thing to do,” Mayor Jane Castor said at a press conference. “It’s a high priority in our history, and it should be respected and honored appropriately.”
She said the city is devoting time, money and manpower to protecting these cemeteries. At Memorial Park Cemetery, 2225 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the city will begin by trimming the tree canopy and replacing dilapidated fences.
“This particular cemetery has been abandoned,” Castor said. “So the city took it over and made sure it was preserved in a way that reflects that respect we have for everyone buried here.”
When a number of historic, mostly black cemeteries were discovered in Tampa, either forgotten or developed with buildings built over gravesites, Castor asked his team, led by Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Ocea Wynn and community groups in the city of Tampa, to create a task force. to solve the problem of abandoned burial sites.
“The actions we take are not going to right past wrongs, but what they are going to do is ensure that we don’t have lost or abandoned cemeteries in the future,” Castor said. “This problem will not occur from now on.”
In the year since the task force was established, Wynn said the city has made a lot of progress, including tackling the problem on multiple fronts.
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Tampa staff recently helped the Zion Preservation and Maintenance Society become a nonprofit entity. The city of Tampa also donated $50,000 for a memorial, developed a work plan to receive state funding, and applied for several grants for the society.
City staff have attended Zion Preservation and Maintenance Society meetings since its inception two years ago, as well as meetings with the Tampa Housing Authority, NAACP and other community leaders on Zion Cemeteries, Memorial Cemetery, College Hill and Showmen’s Rest.
The city also worked with members of the Tampa City Council to change the land use category of all but one city-owned cemeteries to “parklands and open spaces” to further protect them by limiting development. . City staff are currently working on the land use change for the last cemetery, Jackson Heights.
Additionally, Castor staff are working with the Hillsborough Planning Commission and Tampa City Council to create a new land use category just for cemeteries for added protection.
At the request of the mayor, the Tampa Development and Growth Management Administration sent a letter to the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, acknowledging the county’s recommendations and asking to see expanded policies including:
- Additional protection for city-owned cemeteries, including potential preservation, protection, and potential national/local landmark designation.
- Policies to apply if new lands are discovered and measures to ensure respect for remains
Memorial Park Cemetery
Memorial Park Cemetery is one of the cemeteries where the city has devoted significant resources to improving the site since the death of the owner two years ago.
More than a century ago, Memorial Park was established as a burial place for African-American veterans of the World Wars, and many soldiers who died in France were buried there.
The city cannot touch headstones or graves because they are considered private property. However, city staff filled depressions with earth and cleared plant growth, helping to protect, maintain and restore the burial grounds.
“These historic cemeteries are a visible testament to Tampa’s unique history,” Wynn said. “We are proud to work with community partners to not only maintain them, but to protect them from encroachment and development. Their historical significance should be celebrated.”
Other cemeteries owned and maintained by the city include:
- Woodlawn Cemetery
- Oaklawn Cemetery
- Jackson Heights Cemetery
- Marti-Colon Cemetery (the Colon section is private property)
- Centro Austrian Cemetery
- Colon Section of Marti-Colon Cemetery
- Memorial Park Cemetery (city maintains)
- Showmen’s Rest (next to Woodlawn)
- Schaarai Zedek (adjacent to Woodlawn)
- Rodeph Sholom (next to Woodlawn)
- Pyramid Crypts (adjacent to Woodlawn)
- Beth Israel (next to Woodlawn)
City of Tampa
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, along with Ocea Wynn, Tampa’s Administrator for Neighborhood and Community Affairs, and Stephen Benson, City Planning Director, discuss their plans for Memorial Park Cemetery.