WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A tip from a concerned citizen led to a school discovering that their property was built over a cemetery used in the 1940s.
- Underground radar survey revealed the presence of about 145 unmarked coffins or more on an area in the school campus where the agricultural facilities are housed.
- The graveyard is believed to be part of the Ridgewood Cemetery that was opened in 1942 for indigent African-Americans.
A high school in Florida was discovered to be built over a graveyard after the school board was notified that the school’s property used to be a cemetery for the indigent in the mid-20th century.
Following a tip from a citizen suggesting that historical data showed that there could be an approximately one-acre cemetery on the school’s property, school officials said investigations which started last month revealed on Wednesday that approximately 145 coffins were buried 3 to 5 feet deep on the King High School property in Tampa, Florida.
With the help of geophysical technicians who used an underground radar survey to map and scan a fenced off area on the southern end of the campus, “clear evidence of burials” were revealed. This area which contained lab facilities, a building and an animal farm was where the school’s agricultural program was situated, a school spokesperson told NBC News. Although a second area in the northeastern part of the school was surveyed, there were no signs of burials found.
The unmarked graves are believed by school officials to be part of Ridgewood Cemetery, a historic burial ground in the early 1940s primarily used by poor African-Americans. The cemetery opened in 1942, and the school district bought the land in 1959.
According to reports from the company that conducted the radar investigation, while radar alone cannot exactly pinpoint what’s underground, the layout of the coffins matched with historical data and burial customs of the time.
Although not all graves were identified due to decay that it cannot be detected by radar, the school believed that it contains over 250 graves, 77 of which belonged to infants or young children, as per records. It’s possible too that more graves may also be buried beneath the agricultural workshop.
The school district turned over the findings to the county medical examiner and state archaeologist who will then decide if the land will be returned to the school. But while awaiting the outcome of the review, the school also plans to relocate that part of the agricultural structure that has graves.
In a press release from the Hillsborough County Public Schools, the school district said that if they get the land back, they will work with the community’s Historical Response Committee on the best way to honor the people buried on the site.