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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bones lead to mystery Miami graveyard from 1900s

Associated Press Writer
via sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Jul. 16, 2009

MIAMI -- When Enid Pinkney was a girl in the 1940s, her grandmother would tell her stories about a black cemetery nestled in the northwest corner of Miami in an area once called Lemon City. Pinkney never saw any headstones or tombs on the former farm land, which gradually became surrounded by small homes, car lots and industrial warehouses starting in the 1950s and 1960s...

...Pinkney's grandmother was apparently right. The bones of at least 11 people - and possibly dozens more - were recently discovered during construction of an affordable housing project. A local historian says the site was probably a cemetery for settlers from the Bahamas who came to South Florida in the early 1900s to tend to wealthy whites and to help build Florida's most cosmopolitan city.

Now Pinkney, a 78-year-old activist and civic historian, is among those who want construction halted and the site designated as historic. "Even though the people are dead, they are speaking to us," said Pinkney, who went before the city's Historic Preservation Board last week to discuss the discovery...

The scattered bones were first discovered in April. Someone called Pinkney about the find and she started to ask around in the black community to see what people remembered.

Pinkney approached Teresita DeVeaux, a 100-year-old woman who was born in the Bahamas and came to Miami as a child. DeVeaux remembered that a young man named Theophilus Clark was buried there. Pinkney mentioned this detail to a reporter from The Miami Herald - and when a story with Clark's name was published, a local historian named Larry Wiggins took note.
Wiggins said he plugged Clark's name into a Mormon genealogy Web site [http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp], and discovered that the man was buried in 1926 at a place called the Lemon City Cemetery.

There is no known cemetery in the area by that name, so Wiggins ran a geneology records search using the keywords "Lemon City Cemetery." A total of 523 names came up, all of black people, many from the Bahamas or infants of Bahamian settlers. The majority were buried between 1915 and 1925, right around the time when millionaires began developing Miami Beach.

But if this was a named cemetery, why wasn't it on any city maps? And why didn't anyone remember it or fight for preservation when the land was developed over the years?

..."We've obliterated our history, especially for the unempowered," said George. "We don't have a great reverence for our past. Things are forgotten very quickly."

Another unanswered question surrounds the status of the housing development on the property. The developer was going to build three towers for affordable and senior housing on the site. One of the towers is almost finished; work has stopped on the other two.

Patrick Range Jr., an attorney and spokesman for the developer, said the project is in limbo while more archaeological work is done...

Range said that the developer has finished an extensive radar scan of the property; he said there are a few areas where there are definitely objects underground. The developer will hire archaeologists to hand-dig those areas in the coming weeks to find out what's in the soil. "We certainly do intend to bring the project to fruition," he said. "What it will look like at the end stage, I don't think we're ready to say."

But Pinkney and other black community leaders insist that the people that lay under the ground be remembered. City officials have speculated that there may be little they can do in the way of historic designation because there are no historic structures on the site and that no one of historical note is buried there. State rules say that construction on former cemeteries is acceptable if remains are appropriately moved. Is nothing sacred? We can't even be buried for the long term?

In the meantime, Miami's Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously last week to approve "in principle" that at least part of the property be kept undeveloped as a memorial park. But the resolution is not binding by law.

..."This is so typical of what happens to black people. It's like you get eliminated, discounted, disrespected and when something like this happens, it's almost like it's your fault that the city doesn't have a map to prove you existed."

These are real people buried at Lemon City Cemetery:

Bell, Effie b. 1900 d. Aug. 1, 1924 and newborn son George.

Bell, Rebecca b. 1902 d. Aug. 10, 1925

Bell, Willie b. 1895 d. Sep. 20, 1925

Billings, McLeod b. 1930 d. Jan. 26, 1935

Mackey, Mary b. Nov. 5, 1923 d. Nov. 12, 1923

Clark, Theophilus b. 1926

Lemon City Cemetery, Lemon City, Miami-Dade, Florida, USA

19th Century Cemetery Unearthed
Dade Heritage Trust Seeks Historic Site Designation For Cemetery
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MIAMI -- A long-forgotten 19th century cemetery was unearthed in Miami, opening a whole new chapter in South Florida history.

In April, construction crews building a housing project near Northwest 71st Street and Fourth Avenue uncovered the burial ground and human remains. Aside from two maps that label the area a cemetery, no other information has surfaced. So...two maps aren't evidence enough that it exists?

But people in the neighborhood are now coming forward, saying their loved ones may be buried there.


On Monday morning, a group of archaeologists, historians and long-time Miami residents pieced together the story behind a suspected black cemetery. Georgia Ayers, 81, grew up in the area. She believes her grandfather was buried in the cemetery after he was killed in a robbery...

As a child, Ayers said the area around 71st Street was known as Lemon City. The graveyard, she said, was named after the city. "I used to walk by the Lemon City Cemetery as a child," Ayers said.

Archeologist Bob Carr is working on the science end of the puzzle. “So far, we have found fragments of human remains. There are eleven bodies. We are still looking for more,” Carr said.

Monday’s gathering was sponsored by Dade Heritage Trust. The goal is to combine science with history to help identify the bodies found. But without more information, it could be difficult to declare the cemetery a historic site and prevent further development...

Dade Heritage Trust will take their findings to the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board on July 7. It will be the first step to deeming the cemetery an historic site.

Read entire article here...


Tracy Hall Jr said...

The family history of 523 souls is adequate reason to protect this sacred ground. All burial grounds should be protected when discovered.

From my family's history I have tentatively located the Mormon burial ground at Cartersville, Iowa, where Lachoneus Moroni Tracy, 11-year old son of Moses Tracy and Nancy Naomi Alexander, was buried on August 3, 1846. His was the 2nd of some 200-300 burials. The settlement was abandoned when the Mormons moved west and is now a suburb of Council Bluffs. It's a farm field on a low rise about 500 feet northwest of Franklin Avenue, bounded by the tracks on the east and the ridge to the west, about 100 feet east of Interstate 80. (GPS coordinates N41.254870, W95.807127).

Bones were uncovered when construction of the Great Western Railroad cut the east end of the graveyard, and this was reported in the Salt Lake Tribune of Oct 18, 1902, but no attempt was made to protect the graveyard from future disturbance.

Tracy Hall Jr

Janet said...

It is great that you have such good information on your family. Here on the prairie we have lots of little graveyards here and there. They are mowed and neatly tended.

I hope they handle Lemon City Cemetery tenents with the respect they deserve.