Articles and document relevant to Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, Florida.
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Editorial: Conflicts of interest spending issues undermined Pinellas reading program... - The wife of a Pinellas County commissioner spent millions with little oversight, and more accountability is needed.
Tampa Bay Times › Editorials Dec 12, 2018 -
Supported by local property taxes, the Juvenile
Welfare Board of Pinellas County invests in early
learning programs, mentoring and mental health
services for children. But good intentions are no
defense for the troubling lack of accountability
and controls on public money spent on a reading
program run by the wife of a Pinellas County commissioner....
...Donna Welch, the wife of Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, spent $2.6 million in the past five years as the director of a publicly funded reading program aimed at helping poor children in south St. Petersburg. Yet there was little documentation or oversight in how she spent that money,,,,
...Those aren’t the only questions in this messy intersection of worthy causes, public money and personal connections. The Sanderlin board fired Donna Welch “for cause” in June but won’t say why. The Juvenile Welfare Board moved the reading program to the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, which hired Donna Welch to keep running it. But that relationship also apparently soured, and Ken Welch called or met with at least seven Juvenile Welfare board members and urged them to move the reading program to another nonprofit that pledged to hire his wife. That is an obvious conflict of interest for a county commissioner who has broad influence on public spending and policy. Yet Ken Welchdefends his actions and says he only defended his wife from what he views as unfair treatment. His cryptic Facebook post following the news account of his wife’s spending with the reading program: #TruthIsComing.
Truth would be good. The Sanderlin Center should disclose why Donna Welch was terminated. The Juvenile Welfare Board, or perhaps Pinellas-Pasco State AttorneyBernie McCabe, should investigate how every nickel of the $2.6 million was spent while she ran the reading program. And the Juvenile Welfare Board, which is developing a new reading program, should follow through on its efforts to better monitor spending...
Spending gets flagged for reading program run by wife of Pinellas County commissionerThe wife of a Pinellas commissioner spent thousands of dollars on food, photos and shirts for year-end parties for a reading program.
By Mark Puente Published Dec 7, 2018
ST. PETERSBURG – The director of a taxpayer-funded reading program to help poor children in south Pinellas County spent$2.6 million in the past five years with
scant documentation, minimal oversight and no
tracking mechanism, the Tampa Bay Times has found.
Donna Welch, wife of Democratic Pinellas County
Commission Chair Ken Welch, spent thousands of
dollars on food, photos, shirts and a disc jockey for
year-end parties for the Faith-Based Literacy &
Technology Program. In one year, she
spent $16,000 to shuttle kids to field trips, but only $62 on books.
Her spending mingled the personal with the public. One example: $90,000 that Welch directed for computer repair to a firm owned by a friend’s spouse. Welch also spent thousands for rent and supplies at her family’s church.
“It was like a fiefdom,” said Brian Aungst Jr., a Clearwater lawyer and chairman of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, which uses tax dollars to pay for the program. “People felt like it was their money. There is a smell here.”
By Mark Puente Published Nov 8, 2018
CLEARWATER –– The Juvenile Welfare Board
of Pinellas County rejected proposals from two
nonprofits who wanted to take over a taxpayer–
funded literacy program for disadvantaged
children in southern St. Petersburg.The move
on Thursday came weeks after Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch lobbied the board’s members this summer to hire one of the nonprofits, which had vowed to hire his wife, Donna. She was fired from another group that ran the same reading program.
Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch lobbied public officials about a job for his wife
Editorial: Ken Welch's obvious conflict of interest.
Editorials Nov 7, 2018 -
...Ken Welch says he did not hide that he was keeping board
members apprised of the circumstances surrounding his
wife’s ouster at Sanderlin and the status of the reading
program. He says the reading program has nothing to do
with county business, and he claims he showed proper
restraint in staying on the sidelines — until Donna Welch’s
treatment became so egregious that he had to speak up.
But his lobbying, both in public and in private conversations,
is inappropriate at any stage. As County Commission chairman, Welch wields influence with other public officials — no matter the topic. Ignoring that fact so he could speak up for his wife was an abuse of his position.
Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch lobbied public officials about a job for his wife
By Mark Puente Published Nov 2, 2018
ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County Commission
Chairman Ken Welch lobbied other public officials
this summer to hire a nonprofit to take over a taxpayer
-funded literacy program for disadvantaged children
in southern St. Petersburg. His appeals came after that
same group promised to hire his wife, Donna, who
had been fired from another nonprofit that ran the same faith-based reading program, according to records and interviews.
St. Petersburg-based R’Club Child Care sought to take over the program Aug. 30. That day, Welch’s official calendar shows he began contacting a majority of public officials and gubernatorial appointees who serve on the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County. The agency awardstax dollars to run the $600,000 annual program....
Headstone Unearthed in St. Pete May Belong in Lincoln Cemetery
Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport, August 1, 2018
When a St. Petersburg man was digging up his yard on 88th
Avenue North over the weekend, he came across an old
graveyard headstone then called police.
The stone’s markings say that Word War II veteran William
Henry Matthews, 27, served in the United States Naval Reserve.
He was born on November 22, 1924 and died on November 8, 1952....
Headstone of World War II vet found behind St. Pete home
By: Josh Cascio, FOX 13 News
POSTED: JUL 30 2018 09:02PM EDT
VIDEO POSTED: JUL 30 2018 10:28PM EDT
by Jimena Tavel - Published Jul 30, 2018 -
Lyudmila Sytsevich’s husband and two sons were clearing debris in their back yard Friday when they found something unexpected.
There, beneath broken glass and a lot of dirt was a headstone. It read simply: "WILLIAM HENRY MATTHEWS."...
WWII vet's headstone found in St. Pete backyard; now search is on for his graveWilliam Henry Matthews' headstone was found in St. Petersburg, but he was buried in Gulfport.
Author: Sarah Rosario
Published: 6:08 PM EDT July 30, 2018
A man redoing his backyard made a very unusual discovery: the headstone of a World War II veteran. Now the search is on for the veteran's gravesite....
YMCA, Welch to continue youth literacy program
Bill DeYoung] Published - July 16, 2018
...In June, the Midtown center became embroiled in
controversy when three top staffers were accused
of accepting payouts for unused vacation pay.
Sanderlin executive director Lounell Britt and
operations chief Delphina Davis resigned.
The Sanderlin board fired the program’s longtime director Donna Welch, even after determining she’d done nothing wrong.
This week, Jezek didn’t need another pause to think about his next step. He hired Welch to run the literacy program under the auspices of the YMCA.
“I’m excited to return to my work, back with our youth and
the teachers in the faith-based literacy program,” Welch said.
“The program meets many unmet needs in our community,
and I’m looking forward acknowledged the benefits of
having someone so well-entrenched in the program, and the
community, at the helm.
“She is very passionate about this program, and well-supported,” Jezek said. ...
Approved Minutes - July 12, 2018
By Kate Bradshaw on June 14, 2018
...Welch is up for re-election in 2020. If he wishes to
stay on the board for another term, he probably
wouldn’t have any problems doing so; he was
automatically re-elected in 2016 due to lack of
opposition. Yet he recently confirmed rumors about
an interest in running for Mayor of St. Petersburg when Kriseman terms out in 2021....
Walking Tour, Book Dedicated at Lincoln Cemetery
Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport - May 23, 2018
Learning about history is the common theme of two new projects that were dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, May 17 at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport.
Alicia R. Isaac, a teacher at Boca Ciega High School and adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College, uses her academic degrees, including a doctorate in public administration and American government, to bring people together who share a vision – in this case about Lincoln Cemetery...
...On April 24, 2018, funding originally allocated to the Historic Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Rehab project was reallocated to the Winning Reading Boost project at the request of the funding recipient.
BP Grant for Lincoln Cemetery Will Require a Vote
Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport March 28, 2018
On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr., the grandson
of Elder Jordan who is the namesake for St. Petersburg’s historic
Jordan Park, was officially named as one of the advisers to the
Lincoln Cemetery Society. His great grandfather is buried at the
cemetery. Photo by Helen J. Simon.
The awarding of Pinellas County’s $90,000 BP grant monies originally earmarked for rehabilitation efforts at Gulfport’s Lincoln Cemetery will come down to a future vote, said County Commission Chairperson Kenneth T. Welch on Monday, March 26.
The money is part of a larger $7.1 million settlement the county received in July 2015 as the result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that began with an offshore rig explosion on April 20, 2010.
As part of their process for disbursing the one-time revenue source, Pinellas County commissioners sought ideas from the public along with applications and unanimously approved a list of projects on December 13, 2016. (See the complete list at pinellascounty.org/BPupdates/pdf/BCC_approved.pdf.)
One item on the list is labeled, “Historic Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Rehab” for the amount of $90,000.
The matter of distributing these specific grant monies has been delayed based on two local non-profit organizations – one in Gulfport and one in St. Petersburg – that have been in dispute until recently over cemetery land ownership due to competing legal documents.
Assurance of cemetery ownership was needed by the commission before final awarding of the grant, said Commissioner Charlie Justice, the representative for District 3 that includes Gulfport.Justice was also the chairperson of the commission when the workflow for seeking BP grant proposals and approving projects was adopted.
The Lincoln Cemetery grant applicant is Cross & Anvil Human Services, a local non-profit associated with the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, 1045 16th St. S., St. Petersburg.
At the time of their application, the church group did not have a clear land title for the cemetery located at 600 58th St. S., Gulfport. Considered an historical treasure, the nine-acre cemetery was established in 1926 and contains the graves of approximately 6,714 African Americans, 247 are recorded as military veterans.
Independently of the church and in December 2015, a Gulfport resident named Vanessa Gray began to maintain the cemetery with the help of local volunteers and eventually a team from the Sarasota school district that joined in with a 10-year commitment. Gray routinely organizes heavy cleanup days to mow grass, clear overgrown brush, maintain trees, dispose of litter and repair gravesites.
To facilitate volunteer recruitment and retention efforts in a formal way, Gray decided to create the non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society on June 20, 2016.
Following this effort, Gray contacted a man who by some legal interpretations owned the deed to the cemetery property. Richard S. Alford of St. Petersburg transferred ownership to Gray’s non-profit on February 8, 2017. By February 14, 2017, the deed was recorded with the Pinellas County Clerk of the Court.
When Gray became aware of the church group’s efforts relating to the cemetery, their application for the county’s BP grant money and their acquisition of a competing land ownership document, strained communications developed between the two over attempts to resolve the deeds. Each group retained a lawyer.
On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr., the grandson of Elder Jordan who is the namesake for St. Petersburg’s historic Jordan Park, was officially named as one of the advisors to the Lincoln Cemetery Society. His great grandfather is buried at the cemetery.
After Jordan led efforts “calling on the community to come together and support the efforts of Gray and the non-profit society she established to care for the property,” he had a subsequent conversation with Rev. Clarence Williams who represents the Cross & Anvil Human Services non-profit and the associated church.
Jordan was told by Williams that the church-related non-profit was no longer interested in pursuing the Lincoln Cemetery project, said Gray.
Jordan confirmed the result of his earlier conversation with Williams on Monday, March 26, 2018 in a text message to Gray.
During the time that land ownership of the cemetery was in the process of being resolved, the county kept their BP grant monies in reserve, said Justice.
Now, moving forward, the commissioners need assurances about the cemetery’s legal issue, the fiscal capacity of Lincoln Cemetery Society to do a project, the details of their plan and their credibility as a non-profit, said Welch.
“I speak with Williams frequently and we’ve talked in person” about the Cross & Anvil Human Services non-profit doing a new and different project with BP grant money, said Welch.
“The church that applied has another proposed use for the funds so the commission will have to talk about that,” said Welch. “There’s no roadmap for this kind of an event. I am committed to the original group that applied. I’m waiting for them to come forward and suggest their alternative route for the funds.”
As of Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 10 a.m., the county staff had received no official documentation about an application change from Williams, said Andrew Pupke of the county’s Department of Real Estate Management.
Williams called Pupke about two months ago about the process of changing the purpose of their grant application.
“At the time, I indicated thatthey couldn’t change the application because the board had decided the funds were allocated for Lincoln Cemetery,” said Pupke. “The board will need to approve any change.”
Justice believes that the county’s BP grants “are for specific projects and not groups. With ownership documentation, we will be able to help Grayin her process of getting the funds. My hope was and is that we can find a way to get Lincoln Cemetery some funds to get some work done.”...
Uncovering African-American history, one grave at a time
By: Kelly Ring, FOX 13 News
POSTED: FEB 26 2018 06:15PM EST
GULFPORT (FOX 13) - A bird’s-eye view shows forgotten African-American graves at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport.
“It’s unreal how much history that is here,” offered Vanessa Gray, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society. “Everywhere you step, someone has a story."
History has been covered up with over growth on the unkempt grounds.
"You couldn't even get to the grave sites because there was so much over growth here, and you were afraid to walk through the grass because it was higher than your hips," Vanessa continued.
Thanks the 24-year-old Vanessa, that has all changed.
"These are people of our community, whether the race, whether the color, doesn't matter. We are part of the same community," she explained.
For the past three years, Vanessa has spearheaded the mission of cleaning up and restoring headstones at the cemetery.
"Every time I see a name, it melts my heart because they are finally being recognized and not being covered up no more."
The grounds are a treasure of African American history.
"This is one of the Civil War veterans, Joseph Brownlow," Vanessa explained. Former slave and entrepreneur Jordan Park is also buried there.
Vanessa played at the cemetery as a child and cultivated a special connection with the people put to rest here.
"This cemetery has done more for me than I could ever do for it. It brought my family together, it brought my friends together, it brought my community together, and I will always, always cherish that."
Vanessa has cleared out most of the area but, there is still lots to do. She is now working with volunteers to help put together a walking tour for the cemetery.
Hurricane Irma disturbs the peace at historically black Gulfport cemetery
Booker students come in to the rescueIsabel Rosales
8:03 PM, Nov 4, 2017
...Peace is disturbed at Lincoln. Trees have been uprooted and debris is covering up the old tombstones.
“It was an absolute mess after Hurricane Irma," said Vanessa Gray, President of the Lincoln Cemetery Society. "We had 17 fallen or damaged trees. These trees are bigger than me.”
Among the graves rests Emma E. Booker. She's an African-American educator who founded Sarasota County's first black school.
“It was just upsetting because these people shouldn’t have to rest in a place like this," said 16-year-old Maicy Powell, a student at Booker High School.
It's because of Emma E. Booker that 23 other kids from Booker Elementary, Middle and High traveled almost an hour away. This woman and educator their schools' namesake. Booker High School Principal, Rachel Shelley, witnessed the cemetery's need for some care and love after visiting Booker's gravesite in October. Along with Principals of Emma E. Booker Elementary and Booker Middle Schools, Edwina Oliver and LaShawn Frost, respectively, they organized a sort of field trip. Two dozen kids volunteering to help out.
“They were dragging brush someone three feet tall dragging brush that was bigger than them," said Gray, touched at the effort.
“I didn’t feel tired," said Powell, "This was actually something that was kind of fun.”
Students swept away the debris uncovering tombstones and history. With each garbage bag filled, they gave back honor to this place of final rest.
“It really does feel amazing. You don’t realize how much of an impact it’s going to have on you," said Powell.
The schools hope to make this cleanup an annual occurrence but the cemetery needs help now. There's still significant debris, areas in need of moving and tree limbs in need of cutting down.
Lincoln Cemetery Gets Help, Ownership Clarity
November 8, 2017 by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport
Faculty, staff and administrators from the Sarasota County Schools along with citizen supporters volunteered at Lincoln Cemetery on the morning of Saturday, November 4. They surprised Lincoln Cemetery Society President Vanessa Gray, center holding the white envelope, with gifts of gas cards and lawn maintenance equipment in addition to a commitment to help her with beautifying and restoring the cemetery for the next 10 years.
Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport got some out-of-town help recently when over 40 students and adults volunteered on the morning of Saturday, November 4 to beautify one specific gravesite and others around it.
Emma E. Booker, who is buried in the cemetery, is the namesake of three schools in Sarasota County: Emma E. Booker Elementary, Booker Middle and Booker High School.
The Sarasota team also brought donations in the forms of gas cards, gas cans and new lawn-care equipment along with a firm commitment to help.
“On behalf of the Booker High School family, the school district, the school board and superintendent, we are giving you tokens of our appreciation for taking over this project to maintain this cemetery,” said Booker High School Principal Rachel Shelley. “And, this is not going to stop here. We are looking for a partnership. We are looking to give back. Our Student Government Association has embraced this project and they have made a 10-year resolution” to help. “And it will continue beyond that.”
Established in 1926, the 600-acre cemetery contains graves of approximately 6,714 African Americans and 247 of those are recorded as military veterans, according to Vanessa Gray, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society, the local non-profit that owns the cemetery at 600 58th St. S. “Different nationalities are also buried there, like a 13-year-old Asian boy” along with Jewish and Native American people.
Over 40 volunteers from Sarasota County teamed up on Saturday, November 4, 2017 to beautify the gravesite of the namesake of three schools in their district: Emma E. Booker. Students, faculty, staff and citizens also worked on gravesites around Booker’s. Students ranged in age from 4th grade through high school....
...Recently, Gray has met twice with Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice to discuss the cemetery’s ownership and direction along with the status of the grant. The cemetery is in his district.
Gray told Justice that no lawsuit has ever been filed by the church. “They were under the assumption there was a lawsuit,” she said.
In addition, Williams recently told Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr., one of the society’s advisors that “he is no longer pursuing ownership interest in Lincoln Cemetery,” said Gray.
As a result, Justice advised Gray regarding the next step the society should take in the workflow toward obtaining the county-level grant.
“We need to write to Janet Long, the current chairperson of the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners, to clarify the cemetery ownership issue,” said Gray. “Our letter will help to make everything official at the county level.”...
“I am proud of the people from the Sarasota community making the effort to drive up here to do what they did,” said Gray. “To see that kids are interested about the history of the cemetery has motivated me even more because, now, I know it’s not just affecting Pinellas County. This is affecting, in a sense, all of Florida. The people buried here have shaped our community, our state and the civil rights movement.”
We are “excited to move forward with fundraising, fixing burial vaults and mapping the cemetery with ground-penetrating radar,” she said.
And the team from Sarasota?
Part of their future plan for Lincoln Cemetery includes donating a new gravestone for Emma E. Booker and her husband, who is buried next to her.
Nov 2, 2017 at 6:19 PMUpdated Nov 2, 2017 at 8:51 PM By Elizabeth Djinis
Trip planned Saturday morning to Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport
When Booker High School Principal Rachel Shelley visited local education icon Emma E. Booker’s Gulfport gravesite recently, she found Booker’s tombstone covered in dust and debris.
In a Sarasota County School District press release, Shelley said “my heart was broken,” adding: “I decided to do something, but I knew I needed help to get it done.”
She reached out to Emma E. Booker Elementary Principal Edwina Oliver and Booker Middle School Principal LaShawn Frost, hoping to enlist their resources for an improvement project. On Saturday, students and staff from three schools plan to take a charter bus at 7 a.m. to cut foliage and remove debris at Booker’s gravesite in Lincoln Cemetery, 600 58th Street in Gulfport.
“Our goal is to have as many people help with this effort as possible,” Shelley said in the release. “I’m hopeful we can find donors for a new headstone, gravestone or tombstone for Emma E. Booker, as well as permanent maintenance equipment for the cemetery.”
Booker was an educational leader in Sarasota for children of color. In 1910, she founded Sarasota’s first school for black students, Sarasota Grammar School, and she is the namesake for Booker elementary, middle and high schools. She died in 1939.
Lincoln Cemetery was the primary burial place for black people in Pinellas County from the 1920s until desegregation, and relies on volunteers for maintenance. Anyone interested in participating in the Saturday morning trip may contact Booker High School at 941-355-2967.
June 13, 2017 4:53am - By Asa Royal, Times Staff Writer
Lincoln Cemetery has flitted in and out of existential crisis for the past decade. As its vaults have flooded, its weeds have flourished and its tombstones have surrendered to the swampy ground on which they lie, ownership of the cemetery has passed among three different parties and its finances have run red.
For all its internal troubles, though, the cemetery does not draw much attention from the outside.
"We knew it was there," said Thanh Tran, 18, a recent graduate of Boca Ciega High School, which neighbors the cemetery. "But it was just a cemetery we passed by."
That is no longer the case for her.
Tran and a group of 51 other students from Boca Ciega High School are now authors of The Lincoln Cemetery Chronicles, a nearly 200-page book about the condition, history and legacy of the cemetery. One goal of their book was to ensure that others did not pass by the cemetery without thinking about it, as they once did.
"Many people are unaware of the cemetery's presence and its predicament. Awareness could be the difference between survival and extinction," wrote Skylar Epstein, 18, in the introduction of the book.
Alicia Isaac, 59, is the editor of The Lincoln Cemetery Chronicles and the teacher of its young authors.
Isaac is quick to give credit for the book to her students, but they maintain that it was she who inspired the project.
In the introduction to The Lincoln Cemetery Chronicles, Isaac recounts the book's genesis. Early this year, she had observed a group of people cleaning graves. After talking to a volunteer, she began to tell her students about the cemetery's dismal state, its history and the group of volunteers working to maintain it.
Her students found a lot to talk about: the historically African-American cemetery had recently made the news because the volunteer Isaac had spoken to, Vanessa Gray, a 23-year-old white woman, had obtained the rights to it, surprising and upsetting some members of the African-American community.
Their discussions quickly moved away from Gray's race, though, and toward the plight of the cemetery, which is a 5-minute walk from their classroom.
Isaac took them to see it with Gray as their guide. They were stunned by the state of the cemetery.
Tran flipped through the issues. "Unmarked graves, environmental issues, trees growing out from between the tombstones …"
"Four thousand people buried unnamed," added Decker Lavely, one of the authors.
Isaac, a social studies teacher, let her students connect the dots to explain the cemetery's current state.
They quickly learned that Lincoln Cemetery's historically African-American label was not one of choice. The cemetery had been created in 1926 because the nearby Royal Palm Cemetery refused to bury African-Americans. The cemetery's current state, they concluded, stemmed from its racially segregated past.
The students were "proud, saddened and outraged," Isaac wrote in her introduction.
They began to lay out plans for a project to memorialize the cemetery.
"Originally the students were just going to do biographies of the buried," said Boca Ciega principal Michael Vigue.
"We weren't as serious at first," said Lavely. "But eventually we said, 'Let's make this an entire book.' "
Isaac, who holds three advanced degrees, had written a book previously. "They had no idea how much effort goes into it," she said. But she encouraged them to proceed anyway.
Students conducted environmental research, described technological processes for finding unmarked graves, wrote original poetry and interviewed family members of the buried. All the while, they began to see connections between the cemetery and its surrounding community.
Jaleah Polk, 18, happened to pick up a business card from a woman at a 5K run. A few days later, as she was researching and writing the stories of Edward and Mary Louise McRae, a couple buried in Lincoln Cemetery who had once been prominent members of the black community, she realized that they were related to the woman whose business card she had picked up earlier.
Writing the book was a learning opportunity for the students, said Isaac. "I wanted them to understand the complexity of historical and community issues."
In the end, she said, "They took complex views of what people thought was a simple issue."
At certain points, the students, many of them seniors, became anxious to finish.
"We were editing the week before graduation," said now-graduated senior Krista Burge.
Isaac admitted that the process was difficult for her students. They had to self-organize to create artwork, layout and fonts for the book. Student photographers walked to the cemetery on their own time to take pictures of the graves. Essays went through endless cycles of edits and revisions.
But eventually the book was finished and published. The students now have high hopes for what it will be able to do.
"I hope it touches people's hearts to hear about the struggles of the past," said Tran. "It's really brought the situation to a new light."
Isaac echoed similar sentiments. "I want the book to be a conversation extender, to be a healing balm for the community.
Honoring the Fallen on Memorial Day
May 31, 2017 - Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community
Framed by a large oak tree and in sight of the unknown soldier gravesite, 30 people participated in a Memorial Day ceremony at Gulfport’s Lincoln Cemetery on Monday, May 29. “I’m overjoyed with everyone that came out and seeing everyone’s support not only for the society but for the fallen veterans. It was a great turnout,” said Vanessa Gray, president of the non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society, pictured standing to the right of center in a striped top. “The unknown soldier is a really big thing. There was no head stone. No birth date. No name. Just knowing that we could do something for him to say that ‘You’re not forgotten. You’re not unknown. We know who you are because you’re right here with us.’ He is in our record books under the unknowns. We have about three pages of unknown people. At the very end, it says, ‘Unknown veteran.’ And, then it just says November 6, 1934.”
Standing from left (back) are Rudy Salas, a Vietnam wounded veteran from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines who served from 1966-1967, and commander of the Assisting Veterans of America Support Team (AVAST) Color Guard of Wesley Chapel who was in charge of the American flag for the Memorial Day event; Luis Sanjurjo, an aid to AVAST of Wesley Chapel, and the event’s a cappella soloist for the U.S. National Anthem; Dr. Basha Jordan, a Lincoln Cemetery Society advisor who gave the invocation and remarks; and Vanessa Gray, president of the non-profit society who opened and closed the ceremony.
Toni Carcione, right, treasurer of the Lincoln Cemetery Society non-profit, reads an honor roll of 295 veteran names with branches of service, if known, plus the unknown soldier as part of a ceremony attended by 30 people. From left, seated, are Phyllis Marcum of Gulfport; Vanessa Gray, society president; and, Veronique Thornhill, U.S. Army specialist from St. Petersburg whose grandmother, Annie Mae Thornhill, is buried at the cemetery. “I’ve served in different uniforms for over 20 years,” said Thornhill. “I have an extra pair of boots to donate for the unnamed soldier. I am proud to do anything that I can to help out. I want to support these families, friends and neighbors. I love them.” In the background is a military headstone with an American flag: Sergeant Euris Bland, 640 Ordinance Ammo Company, World War II, August 26, 1911-March 13, 1952.
Dr. Jordan, Jr. Appointed Lincoln Cemetery Advisor
May 24, 2017 Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport Gabber
Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr., the grandson of Elder Jordan who is the namesake for St. Petersburg’s historic Jordan Park, was officially named as one of the advisors to the Lincoln Cemetery Society, Inc. board of directors on Tuesday, May 23.
“He volunteered to be an advisor because he comes to the cemetery a lot to visit his great grandfather” and other relatives who are buried here, said Vanessa Gray, president and founder of the non-profit society. The other four society advisors are Kim Harker, Sharon Butler, Johnnie Lamons and Fran Burns. Burns and Lamons also have relatives buried in the cemetery and Butler is Gray’s mother.
On April 21, Basha Jordan broadcast two live video interviews on his Facebook feed “calling on the community to come together and support the efforts Gray and the non-profit society she established to care for the property.”
You can view the video where he interviews Gray here: facebook.com/basha.jordan/videos/10213469434757149/.
In the second video, Jordan interviews Butler and Toni Clair Carcione, society treasurer: facebook.com/basha.jordan/videos/10213468959345264/
Established in 1926, the Lincoln Cemetery is located at 600 58th St. S. in Gulfport and is a historically black graveyard located near Gray’s home.
Part of the society’s restoration efforts is to clear out the brush and debris, which may uncover previously unknown grave markers.
In one of the videos, Jordan says, “There are different nationalities buried out here.” Gray confirmed and said, “There’s a 13-year-old Asian boy.” And, Jewish and Native American people.
“God is working here to make it a better place for all of us,” said Jordan. “There was nothing done for years” regarding maintenance until Gray began her restoration and maintenance effort in December 2015. “I would encourage African Americans, whites, Jews, gentiles, Koreans, I don’t care who you are to come out and help us to keep this place neat and clean.”
According to a Wall Street Journal news story dated April 17, 2017, “Gray obtained a deed to the whole property from the cemetery’s former owner. The restoration turned into threats of litigation as a potential legal battle has begun to brew over the cemetery’s fate. Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, a black congregation in St. Petersburg, is contesting Gray’s ownership.”
The two sides have retained lawyers and say they are prepared to go to court.
In the meantime, regular monthly clean ups continue and people can get involved as volunteers or by becoming members of the society. To find out more, call Gray at 727-280-6635, visit the society’s website at lincolncemeterysociety.org or their Facebook page: facebook.com/Lincolncemeterysociety.
Memorial Day Celebration Will Feature Dr. Jordan, Jr.
As part of the total of 6,714 people buried at Lincoln Cemetery, 247 are recorded as military veterans, said Gray. One significant find was uncovered last year when the long lost marker of John W. Sharder, a Civil War veteran, was found during a cleanup after being lost for over 50 years.
“Memorial Day is a special day set aside to remember all of those who have fought for our freedom so that we may now pursue our happiness in a free yet united nation,” said Gray in a society press release dated May 23.
The society will be hosting a ceremony at the cemetery at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 29, which is Memorial Day. Jordan will give the invocation. Gray will provide a brief history of the cemetery.
Members of the Gulfport American Legion Post 125 will be placing flags at the sites of those fallen veterans immediately following the opening statements and invocation. Following tradition, members of the military who have served in the same combat zones will place honor pennies on graves.
Refreshments will be served and several members of society will be on hand to answer questions.
Restoration of a Florida Graveyard Digs Up a Legal Fight
Rival deed holders vie for the future of a historically black cemetery near St. Petersburg that had fallen into disrepair
By Jacob Gershman - The Wall Street Journal
April 17, 2017 10:27 a.m. ET
For a Gulfport, Fla., woman, it started with a single grave.
With a shovel and a broom, Vanessa Gray walked into Lincoln Cemetery, a historically black graveyard near her home, in December 2015 and cleared away dirt and grass blotting out the burial ground of a long-dead local minister.
Over time, 23-year-old Ms. Gray started restoring other plots at the neglected cemetery, established in 1926 on a swampy tract of land on the other side of the tracks from an all-white cemetery in Pinellas County, near St. Petersburg, Fla.
She unearthed sunken and cracked headstones, pulled weeds, mowed grass, and cleared away vines, pepper trees and scrub palms by the truckload. She picked up beer cans, tires, tarps and needles littering the nine-acre property.
A year later, she and a cadre of volunteers she recruited repaired hundreds of graves at the cemetery—one of the two in the lower Pinellas peninsula where black residents could bury their dead during the era of segregation. Ms. Gray, who is white, also obtained a deed to the whole property from the cemetery’s former owner.
At this point, the restoration turned into threats of litigation as a potential legal battle has begun to brew over the cemetery’s fate.
Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, a black congregation in St. Petersburg, Fla., is contesting Ms. Gray’s ownership of the property. The Rev. Clarence Williams, the congregation’s pastor, said he appreciates Ms. Gray’s effort to rescue the cemetery from neglect, but said his organization holds the valid deed. He says the cemetery should belong to the St. Petersburg area’s black community.
“Why would a young, white girl want to own a black cemetery with no resources to sustain it,” Mr. Williams said. “This isn’t just about pulling weeds and cleaning up. It’s about telling the story of those buried there. These cemeteries exist as the result of Jim Crow and the egregious laws.”
Ms. Gray said she has proven herself as a capable steward after the nonprofit organization she founded last year acquired the title. “When it comes to everyday maintenance and being out there,” she said, she and her fellow volunteers are “the only ones maintaining the property.”
The two sides have retained lawyers and say they are prepared to go to court.
Ms. Gray said her interest in the cemetery was sparked in 2015 while driving by the property and seeing its dilapidated state. She recalls soon returning to find dozens of headstones piled up by a tree and some burial vaults caved in, exposing remains.
“I had no idea it was a black cemetery when I started this,“ said Ms. Gray, who works as a waitress. ”It was just a cemetery I visited when I was a little girl.” Ms. Gray said the cemetery was in a state of decay even then.
All told, more than 6,000 people are interred in Lincoln Cemetery, including hundreds of veterans and a small number who fought in the Civil War. It is the final resting place for some of St. Petersburg’s most prominent blacks, such as the city’s first African-American dentist, Dr. Robert Swain ; civil-rights leader Ralph Wimbish ; and educator Emma Booker.
By the 1950s, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair, according to historians. “A lawn mower is the method for finding some resting places,” read a local newspaper article from the 1960s headlined: “Lincoln Cemetery: Rest in Rubbish.”
“I know them by their names. They’ve become my family,” Ms. Gray said. “They were people who lived among us. They deserve respect, especially the veterans.”
For decades the Alford family, heirs to a headstone manufacturer, owned Lincoln Cemetery and the land. But the family sold off the remaining plots years ago while upkeep expenses grew. In 2009, Richard Alford and his late wife sold the cemetery to an Atlanta man, Sarlie McKinnon III, who has family members buried at Lincoln. But in February, at Ms. Gray’s request, Mr. Alford conveyed the land to her through a quitclaim deed.
While Mr. McKinnon acquired the cemetery through a stock transfer, Ms. Gray’s attorney said Mr. Alford still possessed control of the land. That preserved Mr. Alford’s authority to sign the deed, her lawyer says.
Mr. McKinnon couldn’t be reached for comment.
‘This isn’t just about pulling weeds and cleaning up. It’s about telling the story of those buried there.’
—The Rev. Clarence Williams of Greater Mt. Zion AME Church
Tamara Felton-Howard, a lawyer retained by the church, says Mr. Alford lacked the authority to sign the deed. And in March, a charity affiliated with the church obtained its own quitclaim deed signed by Mr. McKinnon.
Rev. Williams said for years he has sought to come up with an ownership plan that would ensure “sustainability beyond the lifespan of a regular person.” The church has also applied for a grant from the county to support the cemetery. In March, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners said the grant money was on hold until the property dispute was resolved.
Ultimately, a court may have to sort out which deed is valid. “We are looking at litigation at this point,” Ms. Felton-Howard said.
Greater Mount Zion AME church says it has true deed to Lincoln Cemetery
April 4, 2017 - Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
GULFPORT — Greater Mount Zion AME Church said it has the true deed to a historic African-American cemetery and will fight for control of the property.
That could mean going to court and challenging the deed that Vanessa Gray, a 23-year-old Gulfport resident, obtained in February.
Gray, who is white, believes her deed gave her organization control of the historic black burial ground, where hundreds of black people, including Civil War and other military veterans, have been buried since 1926.
She has been volunteering to clean up the cemetery for more than a year and has spearheaded clean-ups of the 9-acre property. She also established the Lincoln Cemetery Society to run the cemetery and serves as president.
Once Rev. Clarence Williams welcomed Gray's help caring for the neglected ceremony. He said his St. Petersburg church recently obtained what it believes is the real deed to the property and plans to challenge her deed in court.
"We believe that we have a claim to the title and we don't feel that what they have will stand scrutiny in court," Williams said Monday evening after a meeting at his church. "We're very comfortable with our legal position."
The church made its decision after Greater Mount Zion's attorney, Tamara Felton-Howard, met with Gray, her lawyer and a member of her nonprofit's board.
"We are leaning towards litigation," Felton-Howard said. "But we would love to resolve it."
Gray said she plans to continue her volunteer work at the cemetery.
"We're just going to keep on cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery and restore it," she said. "I'm just hoping that we can continue."
The dispute between Gray and the church erupted in February. Williams and other black leaders were surprised to learn Gray had obtained the deed to the property, thwarting Williams' two-year effort to gain control of the cemetery so his church could preserve it.
...Williams said his congregation has raised money to pay legal costs for the fight and is going to appeal to the broader community for help.
Non-Profits in Dispute over Lincoln Cemetery Ownership
April 3, 2017 - Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport Gabber
Ownership of Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport is now officially being disputed between two local non-profit organizations that hold separate quitclaim deeds to the same land.
A quitclaim deed dated February 8, 2017 and signed by Richard S. Alford [view deed here], a former officer in a corporation that at one time owned the cemetery as a land asset, was given to the newly formed Lincoln Cemetery Society, Inc., a non-profit based in Gulfport headed by Vanessa Gray. Volunteers with Gray’s organization have been working at restoring the dilapidated cemetery since December 2015.
At a meeting on Monday, April 3 between legal council for a local church and the Lincoln Cemetery Society, Inc., it was revealed that the church now holds a competing quitclaim deed for the cemetery signed by Sarlie McKinnon. [view deed here]
The legal question now: Which deed is more official?
“Now, we have two competing deeds,” said Tamara Felton-Howard, attorney for a local church’s non-profit group named Cross & Anvil Human Services. “We have the superior interest.”
...Who has the ultimate authority to sign a quitclaim deed to the cemetery is the question.
“If we are unable to come to an agreement, then we are going to have to litigate the issue of ownership of the cemetery,” Felton-Howard said. “It is not our preference to litigate. The church feels they [now] own the cemetery.”
...“We’re going to continue cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery,” said Gray. “No matter what happens [legally], we’re still going to be out there with shovels and brooms. We believe strongly in restoring the graves back to where they should be. Just because a legal battle is going on, the bushes don’t stop growing. It doesn’t mean people stop looking for their loved ones. We have to focus on what we’ve been doing all along, which is action.”
Rev. Clarence A. Williams, pastor of the church and its non-profit group, referred all questions to Felton-Howard.
Meeting requested by Greater Mt. Zion AME Church
April 3, 2017 - Meeting held at Lincoln Cemetery Society's attorney's office attended by President Vanessa Gray, VP Jon Harker, and their attorney Christopher Furlong. Representing Cross and Anvil Humane Services Inc. were their attorney's Felton-Howard. Rev. Clarence A. Williams did NOT attend.
Personal email sent to Pastor Williams in response to Article published today in The Weekly Challenger (NO LINK)
March 16, 2017 at 7:27 PM
To: Reverend Clarence Williams – Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg, FL
From: Vanessa Gray, President Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc. in Gulfport, FL
Dear Pastor Williams, ...
March 16, 2017 by TWC in Featured with 0 Comments
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – “We’re going to fight.”
Those four little words caused the small crowd gathered Saturday morning at Greater Mt. Zion AME to go wild. The church’s pastor, Rev. Clarence Williams, has decided to launch a legal battle over ownership of the historic Lincoln Cemetery...
St. Petersburg church seeks ownership of African-American cemetery
The fight to save an historic African-American cemetery in Gulfport has turned into a legal battle
March 11, 2017, 4:34 PM EST - By Katie Jones, Reporter
GULFPORT -- The fight to save an historic African-American cemetery in Gulfport has turned into a legal battle.
Two organizations want ownership of Lincoln Cemetery
Vanessa Gray has volunteered time to clean up the cemetery
St. Pete church believes its better suited to maintain it
Two organizations have expressed interest in taking over ownership of Lincoln Cemetery.
On Saturday, Pastor Clarence Williams with the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg announced his organization has hired an attorney to fight for property ownership of the cemetery.
For over a year, 23-year-old Vanessa Gray has been working to clean up the cemetery. She tracked down previous owners and was handed the deed for $10.She also created the non-profit, Lincoln Cemetery Society.
During the same time, Pastor Williams was also working to obtain ownership. He even secured $90,000 from part of Pinellas County’s BP oil spill settlement.
That money is now in limbo until a rightful owner is determined.
Pastor Williams’ attorney believes there were issues with the way the deed was handed over to Vanessa Gray.
Pastor Williams said he praises Gray for all of her hard work with the cemetery but believes his organization would be best telling the history behind it.
"The sacrifices they made, the lives they lived, the injustices they endured and their moral fabric helped our society become better," Williams said. "I think the connection with the community and the connection with those who are buried there is really the power in terms of trying to determine the best agency and best fit for who has control of that property."
Gray said she is willing to work with everyone but feels it is important to keep the cemetery in her organization’s name so they can continue the clean-up they started a year ago.
Gray said she’s also passionate about preserving the cemetery’s history.
She said she started a website to archive history and stories from the people buried at the cemetery and is working on a book.
Gray said she also has an attorney but hopes to settle issues out of court.
Church set to launch legal battle over Gulfport's historically-black Lincoln Cemetery
March 11, 2017 1:07pm - Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer(NOTE: Comments on this article with supporting document links are inteded to dispute false or misleading reporting)
GULFPORT — An African-American church whose efforts to take over a neglected cemetery have been thwarted by a 23-year-old woman now appears set to launch a legal battle to claim the historic property.
"We do not believe that this particular piece of property should be in private hands... (***NOTE: LINCOLN CEMETERY SOCIETY INC. is a Florida NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION - NOT IN PRIVATE HANDS). We are striving for community ownership," the Rev. Clarence Williams, pastor of Greater Mount Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg, told a small crowd gathered at the church Saturday.
"We are going to be establishing an account where we can raise money to take care of this legal battle."...
...That day, however, Williams learned that Gulfport residentVanessa Gray had obtained a quit-claim deed to the 9-acre property. Gray, who is white, has become known for her volunteer work... (NOTE: Please specify race and nationality of all subjects in an article if you mention one)
..."I honestly thought that we can come together for the better of Lincoln Cemetery," said Gray, who established the nonprofit Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc. "This is not one person owning it. It has a society, everyday people working every day, going out to do what needs to be done. As of right now, according to the state of Florida, we are the owners and we are just going to keep working and do what we need to do to properly restore Lincoln Cemetery."
Williams said taking responsibility for the cemetery at 600 58th St. S was not something he pursued, but agreed to do at the urging of local African-American leaders. ... (NOTE: Please Identify to whom you refer)
Owner Sarlie McKinnon III, who has a Georgia address, turned over the cemetery maps. The church also got a $90,000 grant from Pinellas County to pursue its plans to restore and upkeep the property. But the award was contingent on showing clear title to the cemetery. (See Deed and public records on Clerk of Court)
That was jeopardized on Feb. 8 , when Gray gained ownership(NOTE: AGAIN DEED in the name of LINCOLN CEMETERY SOCIETY Inc.) through a quit-claim deed signed byRichard Alford, whose family once owned the cemetery. McKinnon, though, got the sold-out cemetery in 2009 from the corporationowned by Alford's mother, the late Susan Alford...
Lawyer Peter Rudy Wallace, who represents Richard Alford, said when Gray began inquiring about the cemetery last year, Alford was surprised. As far as he knew, the property and the corporation associated with it, Lincoln Cemetery Inc., was owned by McKinnon, (NOTE: McKinnon NEVER was on the ownership or board of directors of LINCOLN CEMETERY Inc.) Wallace said. He added that Alford offered to sign any document necessary to resolve the ownership. (NOTE: LINCOLN CEMETERY IINC. Officer/Director Detail Name Title D - ALFORD, SUSAN S. - Title D - ALFORD, RICHARD S)
McKinnon ... signed what Tamara Felton-Howard, a lawyer for the church, said was "a document"on behalf of the congregation. She would not confirm that it was quit-claim deed. Only McKinnon, she said, "has the authority to transfer this property."
Whoever ends up with the cemetery will inherit almost $32,000 in code enforcement liens ... Gray, a restaurant server, (NOTE: Gray is President of Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc.) said she is counting on the $90,000 in BP oil spill money that Pinellas County awarded to Greater Mount Zion to continue her work. (NOTE: BP Grant was AWARDED for improvements to LINCOLN CEMETERY because Pinellas County felt restoring it is a good cause, NOT Mount Zion - Although Mount Zion was counting on it as "SEED MONEY" - he also will solicit additional funds from the cities of Gulfport and St. Petersburg - Feb 1, 2017, Gulport Historical Society estimated $1 million would be needed See Articles in this timeline Apr 6, 2016)
The Pinellas County Commission has yet to discuss how to proceed if Gray prevails, Commissioner ken Welch said.
"But I believe that if we cannot move forward with Mount Zion AME — who applied for the funds and followed our requirements for funding — then we should find another worthy historically significant project. There are a few that come to mind, particularly as it relates to the African-American community," he said in a text.
Asked to clarify what this means for Gray, Welch added: "The commission as a body will have to discuss our next steps. However, I have strong concerns related to the new ownership's capacity and their lack of transparency during this process." (NOTE: See INITIAL CONTACT EMAIL sent by Vanessa Gray to Rev. Williams on May 7, 2016) (***NOTE: Also see next article for "Lack Of Transparency" with "ground penetrating radar" (GPR) to "investigate" a "legal issue" that HAS NEVER BEEN MENTIONED BEFORE. Also, BP GRANT DID NOT included and NEVER mentioned GPR!)
Who owns your heritage? (***NOTE: Since TWC never contacted Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc. for comment on this editorial, we have made notations where necessary with links to supporting documents)
March 9, 2017 The Weekly Challenger (TWC) - BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – What does former slave Elder Jordan, Sr., civil rights leader Dr. Ralph Wimbish and Dr. Robert Swain, the first black dentist to build a clinic in St. Pete, all have in common? They are all buried at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, 600 58th St. S, and the question now is what will happen to the cemetery if it falls into the wrong hands?
An emergency meeting of community leaders and stakeholders was called last Thursday after news broke that the historic cemetery where African Americans buried their dead during the area’s long courtship with Jim Crow had a new owner.
The new owner is a 23-year-old waitress named Vanessa Gray, who also happens to be white. Gray spent the past 14 months organizing volunteer cleanups and her efforts were commended....
...Williams said he received a phone call from Gray on Feb. 27 saying she had secured ownership of the cemetery.
“I asked her over a year ago what was her interest,” said Williams. “She said they just wanted to help clean up and maintain.” (***NOTE: Please see INITIAL CONTACT email sent from Vanessa Gray to Pastor Williams on May 7, 2016 on this page)
It appears Gray has been working on this plan for some time. Unbeknownst to Williams, she had incorporated the nonprofit Lincoln Cemetery Society last June.
(***NOTE: Please see all articles in this timeline that mention the forming of Lincoln Cemetery Society published in the media during 2016 )
So who owned the cemetery in the first place? According to the Tampa Bay Times, the late Susan Alford (***NOTE SEE DEED 1992 For Profit Florida PRIVATE Corporation LINCOLN CEMETERY INC.) gave the cemetery to Sarlie McKinnon III in 2009. (***NOTE: McKinnon transferred stock and care fund to his NOT FOR PROFIT LINCOLN CEMETERY MEMORIAL PARK CORP. with a Stock Transfer Agreement. no property deed was transferred or recorded as evident byCLERK OF COURT, PINELLAS COUNTY TAX COLLECTOR, and a TITLE SEARCH Dated 9-23-2014 commissioned by Pastor Williams) The cemetery had been in her family for decades.... ...Williams is most concerned about sustainability. He feels that not a person or family should own the cemetery. (***NOTE: DEED is in the name of LINCOLN CEMETERY SOCIETY INC. not an individual or family)
“I just wanted to make sure that a structure was in place to facilitate the cemetery’s existence beyond me and every other person with a limited lifespan,” he said, pointing out that historical black cemeteries were anomalies of Jim Crow and should be considered black institutions.
Community activist Gwen Reese,who organized a cleanup in 2015 and whose sister’s grave is lost to time there, echoed Williams’ sentiments.
“We need to seek historic designation,” she asserted, pointing out that you do not have to own a property to do so. (***NOTE: Please refer to what Florida State actually says about private property and National Register Guidelines)
Williams said another possibility should be explored.
“When you’re talking about mapping that cemetery like I wanted to do and gridding it and start doing ground penetrating radar, you’re talking about an investigation,” he said. Supposed there’s something out there that they don’t want us to find? …Could this be a rouse to keep the grass cut enough for you to hush because when I pull out that radar, it may make some people uncomfortable.” (NOTE: This is the FIRST EVER mentioned about "AN INVESTIGATION"? Not very FORTHCOMING with this information in a Church Publication ONLY! Not mentioned in The TIMES???) (NOTE: ALSO GPR was NOT INCLUDED as part of the BP Grant submission)
NAACP St. Petersburg Branch President Maria L. Scruggs said: “This is not a black and white issue. This is a legal issue that has to be resolved with ownership.”
Without McKinnon’s signature, no one will have a basis to bring any type of legal action. (NOTE: So what Maria L. Scruggs is saying is here is, ownershiip of Lincoln Cemetery is needed to do a LEGAL investigation... Of What, Explain???)
“Pastor has done a very thorough job and what impresses me is that he’s been meticulous, forthcoming and inclusive as well as thorough for many months,” said State Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “What upsets me is that it appears that Ms. Gray has been less than that for the same period of time.” (***NOTE: Again, please see email sent from Vanessa Gray to Pastor Williamson May 7, 2016on this page ..."in touch with owner... same goals... work together..." Rev. Williams and AME Church gave NO REPLY Never even met with Vanessa until she came to the community meeting to announce transfer of the ownership of the propety had already occurred)
(***NOTE: Also see FRONT PAGE TBO Article Unearthing respect: Woman finding lost graves at black cemetery in Gulfport - by CAITLIN ASHWORTH
Tribune correspondent Published: April 14, 2016 ...'Gray said she has permission from the owner to work there, and she updates him once a monthon her progress.
She has created a group on Facebook called Lincoln Cemetery Society that is organizing a cleanup on Tuesday.
“This needs to get done,” she said. “I’m just going to do it until it gets done.”
Then she resumed digging.')
(***NOTE: Also see next article from The Gabber for Key Questions Answered)
Lincoln Cemetery Key Questions Answered
March 8, 2017 - Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Community, Gulfport Gabber
In the aftermath of a change in ownership in Gulfport’s Lincoln Cemetery that has recently been made public, a variety of questions have amassed as a result of area press coverage, social media, and meetings both in a government office and the community.... The Gabber presents the following answers provided by a variety of primary sources. People quoted represent authoritative voices for each topic and were selected from over a dozen interviews conducted from March 1 through March 7, 2017....
During McKinnon’s company’s ownership, the cemetery fell into disrepair.
“...Gray began contacting us in the summer of 2016 for the purpose of seeking ownership of Lincoln Cemetery,” said Wallace,...
Alford’s family always wanted the cemetery maintained and taken care of.
“Gray has come forward over a period of almost six months expressing a willingness to do this and neither Richard nor I had heard from anybody else with any kind of request. Neither of us is hard to find.
“Gray made repeated visits to my office. She had me contacted bytwo different attorneys asking for assistance. And, in light of the commitment she has shown, it was Richard’s feeling that if he could assist in putting the property in the hands of someone demonstrating that commitment and dedication, it made sense to do so.
“I think for title purposes, Alford can act on behalf of Lincoln Cemetery.”
Answer by public record: View the February 8, 2017 Quit Claim deed here.
Vanessa Gray, 23, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Society: Beginning with an email dated May 7, 2016, she said she contacted Rev. Clarence A. Williams, pastor of the church to state, in part, “I’ve been cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery for the last six months. I believe that we are working on the same goal. I would love to speak to you about what I’ve done. This cemetery has a special place in my heart. I hope we can meet and I could talk to you about my project.”...
Then, Gray said, “in the fall of 2016, I exchanged several phone calls and texts with [Williams]. I requested face-to-face meetings to discuss details of how our two groups could work together toward the same goal, but none ever happened. I didn’t agree to any job role and I didn’t sign any relationship agreement.”
Answer by Williams:“Gray’s role with the Cross & Anvil Human Services group was a topic discussed over the telephone. She was gong to be responsible for the day-to-day operation and we would seek sustainable resources.”
The church was concentrating on administrative tasks, said Williams...
What is the status of the $90,000 BP grant from Pinellas County?
Answer from Bill Berger, director of Pinellas County’s Office of Management and Budget: “The public monies have been set aside for the needs of Lincoln Cemetery and the owner of the property” regardless of who or what group submitted the application. ...
City of Gulfport records: Currently, the cemetery faces $31,788.26 in code enforcement liens because the city maintained the property up until May 2016, which is when it was recognized that Gray and her fellow volunteers were taking care of the grass, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly on Wednesday, March 1.
After Gray shows over time that she can handle ownership of the cemetery, “I would agree to talk about forgiving the liens,” said Roman. “Right now, no.”
Roman said she was in favor of talking about lien forgiveness if the church had obtained ownership.
On the matter of what Gray has been doing since December 2015 at the cemetery regarding maintenance and restoration, said Roman, “She’s been doing a good job.”
March 06, 2017, - Bay News 9 By Cait McVey, Reporter
Vanessa Gray has been volunteering at Lincoln Cemetery for more than a year.
As the restoration of a historic black cemetery in Gulfport continues, so does the question of ownership.
Vanessa Gray, 23, has been volunteering at Lincoln Cemetery for more than a year, working in her free time to clean up the overgrown mess left amidst confusion over ownership.
Deed was signed over to her, Vanessa Gray claims
Black community leaders feel blindsided by action
Gray not willing to back down, willing to work with church
Gray said she now owns the property, after tracking down the man she believes to be the rightful owner through a public records search.
"He was very surprised. He didn’t think he still had ownership of the property," Gray said. "But according to the State of Florida, it all traced back to Richard Alford. The problem is, the deed was never filed properly."
Gray said Alford signed the deed over to her and now, she plans to maintain and restore the property through her newly-formed non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc.
Non-profits fight over historic African American cemetery
MAR 06 2017
By: Dan Matics, FOX 13 NEWS
GULFPORT (FOX 13) - Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport is resting place to thousands of African Americans – many of which died in an era where slavery still existed.
Vanessa Gray has volunteered for more than a year to make improvements...
Historic African-American Lincoln Cemetery faces a tangled present and uncertain future
Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
March 6, 2017 5:10am
GULFPORT — Heads bowed, the African-American leaders held hands around the conference table Thursday.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, prayed fervently that their reinvigorated efforts to save Lincoln Cemetery, . . . so that our loved ones who are buried there and loved ones yet to be buried there may know that we care."
But it will take many more prayers — and perhaps even legal action — before the cemetery's tangled present and uncertain future are finally resolved.
Those at the hastily called meeting at the Pinellas County Urban League were still reeling from the news that someone had snapped up the burial ground where blacks had been forced to bury their dead during segregation.
The new owner was Vanessa Gray, 23, who had spent the past 14 months volunteering her time, helping to clean up the neglected property.
But Gray, who is white, stunned the black community last week when she announced that she had secured the deed to the property on Feb. 8.
..."She never reached out to the African-American community and she didn't notify members in an official way," Cromartie said of Gray's ownership of the cemetery. "She kind of did it in a back door, sneaky kind of way. I feel that it was disingenuous." (***NOTE: See contact email (scroll down to May 7th on THIS timeline - Also see TITLE SEARCH DONE IN 2014 by Rev. Clarence Willaims)
Lincoln Cemetery Ownership Transferred
March 1, 2017 - Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in Gulfport Gabber
Vanessa Gray, 23, and her newly formed non-profit corporation has been given control of Lincoln Cemetery, a place where she has been caretaking and leading the way for other volunteers for the past 14 months.
“the property deed was recorded with the Pinellas County Clerk of the Court on February 14, 2017.” Gray, 23, incorporated the nonprofit on June 20, 2016 and serves as its president. ...the mission statement of the non-profit is “to restore and preserve the cemetery as a place where families can visit to pay their respects for generations to come.” And, “now that the ownership of the cemetery is clear, the focus cannot just be on maintenance and preservation. [It must also include] developing the funding and infrastructure that will sustain it [into] perpetuity,”
Rev. Clarence Williams (middle top) leads a
closing prayer for a group of community officials
and concerned citizens who met Thursday at the
Pinellas Urban League to discuss the situation
at Lincolm Cemetery. Ownership of the long
neglected cemetery for African-Americans
in Gulfport is now in limbo. St. Petersburg's Greater Mount Zion AME Church had planned to take control and use $90,000 from the BP oil spill settlement to maintain the property. But Vanessa Gray, a 23-year-old who has been volunteering to clean up the cemetery, appeared to beat everyone to it when she filed a quit-claim deed on Feb. 8. However, her deed may not be valid, and now on one is sure who exactly owns the cemetery. [BOYZELL HOSEY | Times]
An effort to restore a historically black cemetery is underway in Pinellas County, but it could be temporarily halted because of new ownership.... "I hope it gets cleaned up and that it (will) be a place that people would actually want to bury their relatives in," Pringle said....
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was working with county officials to receive a grant to clean up the cemetery. They were working on getting $90,000 in BP settlement funding, which was going to be used to restore the cemetery....
"It doesn't matter who the lead agency is, lets get it done," Pastor Clarence WIlliams said. Families hope the beauty of the cemetery will be restored soon.
"We want to make sure that it stays there forever and not build some condominium complex over it," Pringle said.
February 27, 2017 - GULFPORT — The effort to rehabilitate Lincoln Cemetery, a historic burial ground for prominent African-Americans established in 1926, was a team effort:A ... "Before, nobody wanted it," said Gulfport city manager Jim O'Reilly. "Now everybody wants it."... "We're just trying to get all the information and facts about the ownership," Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said in a voicemail to the Tampa Bay Times. "We're tying to understand what their capabilities are.
"We were excited about that project moving forward under Mount Zion AME and Pastor Williams. We'll have to reassess it and be fair to everyone and put the dollars to best use." Gray called the $90,000 "enough to start" maintaining the cemetery...
Meeting scheduled on Lincoln Cemetery effort | Tampa Bay
February 16, 2017 - Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
Lincoln Cemetery, where African-Americans have been buried since 1926,has been neglected over the years. It is now being taken over by Cross and Anvil Human Services, the nonprofit arm of Greater Mount Zion AME Church. The Rev. Clarence Williams said the nonprofit will ensure that the 9-acre cemetery is properly maintained. There are also plans to use ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked or sunken graves... "We want to let them know that it's not going to be a quick process and to just try to answer any questions," Williams said of the meeting.... Funds for the effort — $90,000 — will come from Pinellas County's $7.1 million BP settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Williams said he is soliciting funds from Gulfport and St. Petersburg for continued maintenance.
February 14, 2017
Lincoln Cemetery property deed is recorded with Pinellas County Clerk of the Court by Lincoln Cemetery Society Inc.
African American cemetery now under care of St. Pete church
February 2, 2017 - By: Josh Cascio, FOX 13 News
GULF PORT (FOX 13) - Next to the headstones at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport lie beer cans and overgrown weeds. The once neglected cemetery for African Americans is getting some much needed attention - and care...“The cemetery does not generate income, so there's no resources to maintain the property,” explained Pastor Clarence Williams.
The only resources are volunteers who put in hours of hard labor to clean the cemetery, out of respect for the 5,000 African Americans buried there - many during the era of Jim Crow.
"Jordan Park, Mr. Jordan is there," Pastor Williams said, listing names of those buried at the cemetery. "Mrs. Booker, Booker High in Sarasota. A lot of other people are buried there. People who contributed a lot to our society."
Now, the non-profit side of St. Petersburg’s Greater Mount Zion AME Church is taking over care of the historic burial site, vowing more permanent maintenance. Some $90,000 of BP settlement funds will be used in the effort.
“Once we get the legal weeds pulled, we can begin to pull the literal weeds out there. We're grateful for that,” said Williams.
.Future plans call for road improvements, a perimeter fence, and the use of ground penetrating radar to pin-point the exact site of each buried soul.
February 1, 2017 - The Gabber
church members and community volunteers have been working on the nine-acre cemetery. Unruly vegetation that smothered the site for decades has been hacked away and the grass is being kept mowed. The plots look tidy and cared for. Fallen headstones have been righted and overgrown graves uncovered. There’s no trash. Handmade signs advise drivers to stay off the grave sites. A little parking area has been outlined with tree branches.
Williams said much of the credit for the cemetery’s new look goes to Vanessa Gray of Gulfport. In late 2015, Gray, then 22, took pity on the cemetery and singlehandedly started repairing one grave at a time, eventually mobilizing the community into action.
“She did a magnificent job,” he said. “It’s going to look even better. This is what happens when we can get local ownership of these kinds of properties.”
Gray continues working with the church to keep the cemetery maintained and the church hopes to eventually hire her to oversee it, Williams said. “She’s agreed to stay on and help us, and we’re so grateful to her,” he said.
Feb 1, 2017 - GULFPORT — The perennially neglected Lincoln Cemetery, resting place of ... Seed money for the effort will come from Pinellas County's $7.1 million BP settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Lincoln Cemetery, located at 600 58th St. S next to Boca Ciega High School, will get $90,000.
The Rev. Clarence Williams, pastor of Greater Mount Zion AME, said he also will solicit additional funds from the cities of Gulfport and St. Petersburg...
Pinellas County approves final project list for BP funds
Dec. 19, 2016 - By SUZETTE PORTER
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners said yes to the majority of projects on a list to receive funds from the $7.1 million received as part of a settlement with BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill..
• Rehab of historic Lincoln Cemetery Memorial – $90,000
[MARK PUENTE | Tampa Bay Times - Dec 13, 2016
The Pinellas County Commission is set Tuesday
to divide $7.1 million it received in the BP oil spill
settlement to spend on projects across the county.
During a commission meeting in August, that list
was pared down from 89 projects worth nearly
$23 million back in August. Those projects were
written on a white board during the meeting.
The commission voted unanimously to spend $7.1 million from a settlement of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The awards are one-time payments for 30 projects spread across the county and won't saddle taxpayers with future costs.
County Commissioner Ken Welch said the county had to practically beg people to apply for the money.
"I think it's a strong list," he said.
The $7.1 million will go to programs in areas such as youth sports, affordable housing and the arts and pay for capital improvements such as parks and a charging station for electric buses. Commissioners and staff finalized the list of 30 projects, paring it down from an earlier list of 89 projects worth nearly $23 million.
Cross & Anvil Human Services establish Facebook page
added a post to their timeline.November 12, 2016
Resting Place Of Prominent African-Americans Faces Neglect :
October 16, 2016 - Heard on NPR All Things Considered
The Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, Fla., is the final resting place of many locally prominent African-Americans. It has also been neglected ...
KARLA HOLLOWAY: You still have thousands of families who have been denied the opportunity to establish a connection that is a memorial connection, a family ritual of visiting and cleaning and caring for a grave.
WALTERS: And that lack of connection has impacted Lincoln Cemetery across generations. In the late '50s, bodies were disinterred from a nearby black cemetery and haphazardly re-buried here at Lincoln. Grave markers were lost. Years later, a fire destroyed some cemetery records leading to more confusion. A 1968 newspaper article reads Lincoln Cemetery rest in rubbish. Fifty years later, it's still in rough shape.
VANESSA GRAY: I started looking around, and I was like this is unacceptable. This is not the way it should be.
WALTERS: That's Vanessa Gray, a 22-year-old waitress. She started cleaning the cemetery on her own last year, then created the Lincoln Cemetery Society. It's a group of volunteers who get together and clean when they can, but Gray wonders why the city hasn't done more to help.
Lincoln Cemetery: Gulfport Resolution
August 28, 2016 - GULFPORT, FL - City Council meeting, we respectfully adopted RESOLUTION NO. 2016-56: "A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY OF GULFPORT, FLORIDA, TO CONTINUE OBSERVING THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF LINCOLN CEMETERY; ACKNOWLEDGING ENDEAVORS BY COMMUNITY PARTNERS FOR THE PRESERVATION OF LINCOLN CEMETERY."
August 7, 2016
Rev. Clarence Williams
Greater Mount Zion AME Church
Proposal to Perform a Geophysical Survey
GeoView Proposal Number 5694p
City of Tarpon Springs, Florida
August 11, 2016 - STAFF RECOMMENDATION
Staff is requesting support from the Mayor and the Board of Commissioners for
the nomination of the Rose Hill Cemetery to the National Register of Historic
II. HERITAGE PRESERVATION BOARD
The Heritage Preservation Board held a public hearing on Application 16-67, on
August 1, 2016. In a 3-0 vote, the Heritage Preservation Board recommended
approval of the nomination of the Rose Hill Cemetery to the National Register
of Historic Places.
Lincoln Cemetery Gets a Vote of Historical Significance
August 3, 2016 - Posted by: Debbie Wolfe in City of Gulfport
The Lincoln Cemetery, in the midst of a grass-roots inspired restoration, earned a vote of continuing historical significance from the Gulfport council members during their meeting on August 2 and the $27,000 in code enforcement liens remains on the books as the city continues to maintain the property.
June 20th , 2016 - LINCOLN CEMETERY SOCIETY INC. is established as a Florida Not-For-Profit Corporation
BPEconomic Settlement Funds
May 2016 - [BP projects approved by BCC]
In May 2016, our County Commissioners took part in a facilitated discussion to determine guiding principles for use of the BP funds awarded to Pinellas County. They did so after conducting a citizen engagement survey and receiving public feedback from more than 800 citizens on how the funds should be spent.
The Board gathered ideas through a second survey in June 2016.
Historic Lincoln Cemetary Memorial
Project Historic Lincoln Cemetary Memorial Rehab
Environmental and Economic
Gulfport (MSTU) Gulfport (MSTU) The proposed project will rehabilitate and restore the Historic Lincoln Memorial Cemetery which is the site of a number of unmarked graves. Over the years the cemetery has fallen into disrepair due to the non - existence of a perpetual fund. This proposal requests funding to maintain the grounds, provide for signage of the historic location, providing fencing around the property and provide for markers on those graves that are not currently identified. Many significant individuals from the African American community as well as war veterans dating back tot he Civil War are entombed. Over 5000 individuals are entombed with 150 graves that remain unmarked. There are also 595 pre-purchased grave sites that have yet to be entombed. The impact will be to capture and preserve the historical significance of those who are entombed in this historic cemetery, along with providing access and egress to the cemetery and securing its parameters. In addition, much needed trimming, repairs and improvements will be made to the existing structure. This will allow for families to visit their loved ones in a manner most dignified. A trust fund will be established to provide perpetual care so that this historic site will be least likely to fall into disarray in the future.
Fencing- Wrought Iron Fencing $27,000.00 Foliage-Landscaping and mowing $17,000.00 Road Repair-Asphalt $34,000.00 Flat Grass Level Headstone Markers- $3,000.00 Annual Maintenance $21,600.00 Annually Lincoln Cemetery Signage $9,000.00 ___________
Revenue will not be generated by this project in that the cemetery is closed- all f the plots have been pre-purchased or are occupied. Additionally, Cross and Anvil will host a fundraiser annually to replenish the perpetual care fund as well as conduct a campaign to recruit volunteers to remodel and refresh the historic educational
See survey results for Historic Lincoln Cemetery [pdf file] .
Gulfport locals attempt to clean up rundown cemetery
May 13, 2016, - [Jamel Lanee'l
GULFPORT, FL (WFLA) – It’s hard to see what’s become of Lincoln Cemetery for the Green family. It’s a predominantly African-American graveyard, with tombstones dating back to the 1920s. “It was all grown over. Grass grown all over them and you couldn’t, I mean if you didn’t stick your shovel in the ground, you wouldn’t have known a headstone was there,” said Delores Green, who has several family members buried in the cemetery.
The graves are overcome by grass and weeds, and some headstones are cracked. The Greens found help in Vanessa Gray, a Gulfport woman who stumbled upon a pastor’s grave and became inspired to make a difference for all the souls lying here. Grave by grave, she began cleaning....
May 11, 2016 - GULFPORT — After decades of neglect of Lincoln Cemetery... — A posting for volunteers on her Lincoln Cemetery Society Facebook page drew about 30 volunteers the day before Mother's Day.
"It was awesome," said Gray, who lives near the nine-acre cemetery. "Honestly, everybody is so nice and so grateful for what I'm doing. They hug me and shake my hand and say, 'Thank you.' "
Simultaneously, the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, the Gulfport Historical Society, St. Petersburg's Greater Mount Zion AME Church and Gulfport city officials also are trying to save the cemetery at 600 58th St. S.
"These souls belong to Gulfport and they deserve to be respected and cared for," said council member Christine Brown, who also heads the Gulfport Historical Society.
NAACP lawyer Brian Battaglia has asked the Gulfport City Council to consider passing a resolution that acknowledges the history and importance of the cemetery. Council member Yolanda Roman, supports the move.
"The resolution puts in writing that we, the city of Gulfport, in partnership with many entities, we're all on the same page," Roman said, adding that it would also enhance efforts to solicit additional help.
INITIAL CONTACT EMAIL AME Church:
From: "Vanessa Gray"
Date: May 7, 2016 3:28 PM
Subject: Lincoln Cemetery
This email is for Pastor Williams.
Hello, my name is Vanessa Gray and I've been cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery for the last 6 months. Recently I've had conversation with the owner of the cemetery. I believe that we are working on the same goal. I would love to speak to you about what I've done, what I've been working towards and honestly, why. This cemetery has a special place in my heart. Even though I have no family or friends buried there, I can't explain the connection I feel to it. I've spent countless hours, resources, and effort into building my dream for Lincoln. I hope we can meet and I could talk to you about my project. You can call me at 727-XXX-XXXX or email back.
Thank you for your time,
Council Covers Rules and Cemeteries
May 4, 2016 Posted by: Colin O'Hara in City of Gulfport
“We feel like we need a million dollars to take care of it forever,” Brown said. “Maybe we can make it a state park? … The history in there is amazing and we need to save it.”... “I’m not sure what else we can do as a city legally, because it is private property,” Fridovich said.
Bataglia knows that getting any control over the property will take work....
May 3, 2016
Presentation: Brian Battaglia, Esq., Legal Counsel, NAACP St. Petersburg Branch, provided hand-outs and spoke regarding the history and conditions at Lincoln Cemetery and answered questions from council. Council was in agreement that the city continue the current maintenance of the Cemetery and to receive input on language, from groups involved, for a Resolution to acknowledge the cultural and historical significance of the Cemetery. 1. Public Comment. Poul Hornsleth was recognized and said he supported the proposed Resolution. Jim Frisch was recognized and said he would follow-up regarding the ownership of the Cemetery and would have a discussion with the State CFO.
April 19, 2016 -Present were Councilmembers Christine Brown, Daniel Liedtke and Yolanda Roman; Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich; Mayor Samuel Henderson; City Manager James O’Reilly; City Attorney Andrew Salzman and City Clerk Lesley DeMuth.
Councilmember Roman - asked for a consensus of council to have the NAACP speak on their interest with Lincoln Cemetery at the next meeting. She updated council on meetings which have taken place, with City Attorney Salzman commenting on the involvement of the NAACP and their desire to speak. City Manager O’Reilly addressed Councilmember Liedtke’s concern of presentations on the cemetery and conflicts of interest between groups. Councilmember Brown and Councilmember Roman discussed the interest of the Historical Society.
When the dead at Lincoln Cemetery speak, she hears — and helps ...
Apr 16, 2016 - Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer - GULFPORT — For four months, Vanessa Gray has been shoveling, prodding, uncovering and talking to the graves of the forgotten dead in Lincoln Cemetery. "It's like you look around and you can almost feel the despair: 'Hey, uncover my name,' " Gray said of those buried in the unkempt grounds where more than 6,000 African-Americans — three of them Civil War veterans — have been laid to rest. From the start, Gray listened....
Two weeks ago, after telling the Gulfport City Council about her newfound passion, she recruited volunteers who plan to help on Tuesday.
"This is not an overnight fix," she said. "It's going to take a lot of time and most of all, dedication to fix what Mother Nature has done."...
Why is a white person so committed to restoring a 9-acre African-American cemetery? "I've had a lot of people ask me that same question: 'You have no family there. You have no ties there,' " she said. "I don't see color and I never have. To me, it's a respect issue." She's taking a stand. Her great-grandfather is buried next door at Royal Palm Cemetery, where neat rows of floral memorials dot well-kept grounds.
"I won't go see him until I know that this cemetery is taken care of," she said.
Unearthing respect: Woman finding lost graves at black cemetery in ...
Apr 14, 2016 - BY CAITLIN ASHWORTH Tribune correspondent - GULFPORT — Birds chirped overhead and wind rustled the leaves of nearby trees as Vanessa Gray methodically dug through 6 inches of dirt and weeds.
Her shovel hit concrete. “Found it,” she said, and resumed digging.
Minutes later, she dropped the shovel and began wiping away the last bit of dirt to reveal a name and dates on the headstone of a long-forgotten grave at Lincoln Cemetery. “This is my favorite part,” she said as she ran her fingers over the letters and numbers. For four months, Gray, 22, has been uncovering gravesites at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport.... Gulfport police Sgt. Robert Burkhart comes by the cemetery often and checks up on Gray. “I think what she’s doing is great,” he said.
Some advocates for improving the cemetery’s condition have suggestedacquiring the graveyard for an entity that might provide better maintenance.
The city of Gulfport has looked into foreclosing on the cemetery and turning it over to the Gulfport Historical Society or another group.
But Christine Brown, who is president of the Historical Society and a city council member, said the society would need at least $1 million to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity.
Brown said some of Gray’s work in the cemetery might best be left to professionals.
But Gray said waiting is not an option....
Gray said she has permission from the owner to work there, and she updates him once a month on her progress.
She has created a group on Facebook called Lincoln Cemetery Society that is organizing a cleanup on Tuesday.
“This needs to get done,” she said. “I’m just going to do it until it gets done.”
Then she resumed digging.
Apr 12, 2016
Vanessa Gray stated "I came here one day and I saw it like this... I grew up around here and I guess I came back here on the trails. and stuff and saw it but, until a couple month ago, I came here and I just looked at it and like WOW this looks like a field this doesn't even (look like a cemetery)... like I can feel everybody here but I can't see them... and its time for them to shine... This is them, they are here, they a in the records, this is the last thing they will ever have their name on... You know,I don't want to be forgotten, do you? So, That being said its all about them... Its their time".
Finally Help for Lincoln Cemetery?
Apr 6, 2016 - After years of neglect, Gulfport's Lincoln Cemetery, the final resting place ... Among those stepping forward are the recently reorganized St. Petersburg NAACP, the city of Gulfport, the Gulfport Historical Society, and a young woman who since December has been toiling with a shovel and broom, cleaning up and marking hundreds of anonymous grave sites long ago covered with grass..,.. "Jordan, the pastor, said the condition of Lincoln Cemetery reflected the “social, economic and political system” that treats African-Americans differently from members of the white community." “For too long we’ve been depending on others to do what we should do for ourselves,” he said. “So the NAACP is on this to get something done.”
Christine Brown, chair of the Gulfport Historical Society (GHS) and Ward 2 city council member, said the new members of the GHS board of directors are avid historians committed to helping the cemetery.
Although it’s still in the planning stages, the GHS is considering creating a non-profit foundation that would fundraise, buy and care for the Lincoln Cemetery, said Brown, who as a member of the city council has to remove herself from city discussions of the matter. “We feel we need at least $1 million so we can have the city foreclose on the cemetery so that we can take ownership of it from the city,” she said.
While the various entities talk and plan, Vanessa Gray of Gulfport, 22, said she adopted the Lincoln Cemetery as a personal cause in December after driving by there every day on her way to work and seeing it in such disrepair.
“I just decided to do something about it,” she said. “So far I’ve uncovered, fixed and restored over 200 graves.”
Gray has also placed more than 400 orange flags to mark overgrown graves that otherwise no one would know are there and recently starting making headstones for some. “Everywhere you step there’s a grave … you step on somebody,” she said.
“My main goal is to get help for this place,” she said. And not just with donations of money. Gray has created a Facebook group, Lincoln Cemetery Society,
April 4, 2016 - .Published by Vanessa Gray ·
Lincoln Cemetery has seen it's years of neglect! This page is designed for people, like me, who are ready to take a stand for our fallen hero's and loved ones!.
Volunteer and now President of Lincoln Cemetery Society, Vanessa Gray, finds the property in extreme disarray "These people were forgotten... I just feel like they have to been seen, they need to shine again, these people deserve it." The grass was overgrown and looked like it had not been mowed in months, weeds and bushes hid graves, trees had fallen and she knew she had to do something to restore the cemetery before it was beyond the point of salvage and the cemetery was condemned. Her only reason was for the "sake of those souls that rest there and to provide them an honorable resting place". So, she started spending her free time cutting and mowing the grounds on a regular basis and at her own expense.
NAACP revives branch in St. Petersburg
September 4, 2015 - Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer
Maria L. Scruggs was elected president of the NAACP’s St. Petersburg branch.
ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg's NAACP branch is in the midst of a revival.
One year after the branch was mysteriously shuttered by the national office, the local branch installed new officers Thursday night after an election held at McCabe United Methodist Church.
"It is finding its legs again," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, a past president of the local branch and a member of the new executive committee....
Scruggs and the rest of the officers were elected without opposition. Robert Harrison is first vice president, Corey Givens Jr. is second vice president and Bill Puller is treasurer.
The branch's trouble began last September, when state NAACP officials ordered the local branch to suspend all activities because, according to a letter, the group was not in "good standing." The then-president, the Rev. Manuel Sykes, was told to turn in building keys, property and records.
Questions swirled for months. State records listed the branch as inactive. A padlock prevented anyone from getting into the parking lot at the branch's headquarters at 16th Street and 15th Avenue S.
In July, NAACP Florida State Conference president Adora Obi Nweze said the branch was in the process of reorganizing and would be soon reactivated, but officials have never publicly disclosed what prompted the branch's suspension. State and national officials could not be reached Friday.
Hope for Gulfport's historic African-American cemetery | Tampa Bay ...
May 28, 2015 - "Complaints about the cemetery, established in 1926, go back several decades. McKinnon, 43, whose father is buried at Lincoln Cemetery, assumed responsibility for the property in 2009. That's when the late Susan Alford of Sumner Granite and Bronze, whose family had owned it for decades, transferred the sold-out, money-draining cemetery to McKinnon — and $109,000 in "perpetual care" funds for its maintenance.." Months later, McKinnon, who has since moved to Georgia, told the Tampa Bay Times that most of the funds had been depleted in his effort to clean up the cemetery. As a result, the neglect continued, alleviated only by volunteers who conducted sporadic cleanups.
04/22/2015 -- AMENDED ANNUAL REPORT
Signing Officer/Director Detail Date CHRISTINE A BROWN FILED Apr 22, 2015
Title PRESIDENT BROWN, CHRISTINE A
TREASURER SPENCE, NICOLE B
SECRETARY SALUSTRI, CATHERINE M
Lincoln Cemetery Gets Love, Still in Limbo | The Gabber
May 22, 2015 - Scott Hollman said enough was enough. He was tired of driving by the long-neglected Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport and seeing the collapsing entrance sign and encroaching vegetation.
On Thursday, May 7 2015, he spent the blazing day replacing the sign, banishing the weeds and planting cheerful flowers.
May 21, 2015 3:49 PM
Interstate 95, Potter's Field, Sunrise Boulevard, Woodlawn Cemetery
FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – State officials said around 65 bodies were found buried along Interstate 95 near Sunrise Boulevard – and some of those unmarked graves could have been paved over during the building and expansion of the highway.
April 14, 2015 Sarah Stone
L. Van asks: What happens if a cemetery owner loses their ownership of the land? What about when their land fills up and no new dead people can be put in to pay? How do they afford to keep it going? ...However, if the perpetual care fund runs out or if there was never one to begin with, and if the cemetery is full-up with no further way to generate enough revenue to keep the business open, the cemetery may ultimately go bankrupt or otherwise be closed down or abandoned.
If the process of a foreclosure or a bankruptcy starts, the rest of the operations at the cemetery screech to a halt. So the maintenance of the grounds, the burial of individuals who prepaid for their plots, and other day-to-day goings on stop while the courts and banks work out what will happen next to the business and land.
Families and friends of those who prepaid for their burial end up faced with a difficult decision. They can wait for the bankruptcy or foreclosure issue to be resolved, find and purchase a new burial plot elsewhere, or, if the courts allow it, hire someone with the machinery to dig the grave in the plot they already paid for. Care of loved ones’ graves also falls to them during that time.
From here, what happens next varies widely on a case by case basis. In the case of a cemetery foreclosure or complete abandonment, sometimes the local municipality will simply take over control and management of the land. In other cases, the current owner of the cemetery which is no longer economically viable may seek permission from their local municipality to sell or re-purpose the land for commercial or home use....
CITY OF GULFPORT CITY COUNCIL AGENDA MEMORANDUM
February 17, 2015 - FROM: James E. O’Reilly, City Manager
AGENDA ITEM: 8-a SUBJECT: Lincoln Cemetery
City of Gulfport Florida Regular City Council Meeting:
February 17, 2015. - Minutes of Tuesday Discussion Items: a. Lincoln Cemetery
City Manager O' Reilly provided an overview on the city' s efforts to resolve the ongoing maintenance issues surrounding Lincoln Cemetery; "Council member Fridovich mentioned his discussions on the cemetery property with the Urban League and Pastor Williams, AME Church, who is willing to take it over. He suggested the city put the property in foreclosure by letting it go into disarray for six months".
Feb 14, 2015 -
2015 FLORIDA NOT FOR PROFIT CORPORATION ANNUAL REPORT
Name and Address of Current Registered Agent: BROWN, CHRISTINE ATREAS.
-CHRISTINE BROWN TREASURER 02/14/2014 2014 FLORIDA NOT FOR PROFIT CORPORATION ANNUAL REPORT
Title T - BROWN, CHRISTINE
Title VP Name CULLER, CATHY
Title S Name VALDES, CAROL A
Title PD Name VAUGHAN, SANDRA
October 15, 2014
Certified Local Government Meeting
Title Search Performed on Lincoln Cemetery
September 23, 2014
Title Search performed on Lincoln Cemetery by Sun Title Insurance Company
Ref. LINCOLN CEMETERY INC f/k/a Sumner Marble & Granite Works, Inc. Invoiced to account: Rev Clarence Williams on Oct. 17, 2014 paid $100.
September 16, 2014
Councilmember Roman reported on Lincoln Cemetery; asking City Attorney Salzman to look at the records with the Florida Department of Cemetery and Funeral Services to verify if the cemetery is abandoned
The legacy of loved ones: missing graves and broken headstones
JUNE 25, 2014 - BY MATTHEW LIDDELL - NNB Student Reporter
(LINK REMOVED 3/1/2017) Here's the link on our ARCHIVE
GULFPORT – It was Mother’s Day 2010, and families and friends gathered to visit the graves of their loved ones. Some of them were stunned at what they found: Lincoln Cemetery was in shambles. Six-foot-tall grass and weeds. Broken headstones. Graves that could not be found. The historic African-American graveyard, established in 1926, was once again a victim of shameful neglect.
How could someone let this happen? That is what St. Petersburg City Council Member Wengay Newton intended to find out. Newton heard about the cemetery’s condition from Bay News 9, which reported the Mother’s Day debacle. Residents contacted him in hopes that he would take an interest in the issue, since he was the only African-American council member
Roman Over Ray in Gulfport
March 11, 2014 - Posted by: Cathy Salustri
City of Gulfport, Community, Gulfport - “I’m ecstatic,” Councilwoman-elect Roman said from her victory party at Salty’s Tuesday night. “It was a well-designed, well-organized campaign. It was really the result of hard work.
December 18, 2013
Chairperson Ross read the wording presented by Committee Member Grantham for a marker at Lincoln Cemetery and discussion ensued regarding the property' s ownership history, moving of individuals to Lincoln Cemetery from the Moffett Cemetery in St. Petersburg and an African American Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.
Domain Name: CROSSANDANVIL.ORG
Registry Domain ID: D169364935-LROR
Registrar WHOIS Server:
Registrar URL: www.domain.com
Updated Date: 2016-10-27T05:16:45Z
Creation Date: 2013-08-05T12:35:07Z
Registry Expiry Date: 2017-08-05T12:35:07Z
Registrant Name: Clarence Williams
Registrant Organization: Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church
RELOCATING A CEMETERY With Reverance and Respect
July 2013 - BY MELODY CARVAJAL AND SUSAN GRZYBOWSKI PDF Download
..."The major components that make up a cemetery relocation include records and genealogy, history and land use, mapping, markers and monuments, archaeology, next of kin and families, compliance, as well as the many unknowns and elements of surprise. Not all of the pieces in this puzzle are the same size nor does each piece need to be utilized for each relocation. However, it is critical to know which pieces to use and how they will ultimately fit together. "...
Another cautionary note is in regards to cemetery boundary delineations. One might perceive that a fence line indicates that the burials are all contained within the fenced area. But that is not always the case. Over time, cemetery fence lines can often shift, migrate and reconfigure. As such, encroachment to a cemetery boundary should always be handled with due diligence....
"An essential component to any cemetery relocation involves mapping, which includes both historical maps and current mapping of cemetery sections, lots and graves. The objective is to establish spatial relations of the graves and various other cemetery features and to confirm and/or reconcile the interments. Depending on the cemetery and situation, mapping may entail applying digital overlays of historic design layouts onto modern aerials. This will assist in discerning locations on the ground. The use of GPS or total station surveying to record locations of interments works to create a detailed map of each marker and monument within the cemetery."
Pinellas County joins other local governments in suing BP over oil spill
May 7, 2013 - Times staff
Add Pinellas County to the list of municipalities that are suing British Petroleum for damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
January 30, 2013
Filing Information Sunbiz.org
Meet City Candidates for March Elections
December 12, 2012 5:00 am ET - By Cherlene Willis (Patch Staff)
Candidates for Ward 2 and 4 are unopposed, however, there are two candidates vying for your votes in the mayoral race.
After serving the City of Gulfport for more than 20 years, Mayor Mike Yakes is retiring after the March elections. Yakes has decided not to seek reelection.
Christine Brown, Barbara Banno to Run for Ward 2 City Council Seat
December 8, 2012
Gulfport resident Christine Brown is challenging incumbent Barbara Banno for the Ward 2 City Council seat.By Cherlene Willis (Patch Staff) - Gulfport resident and CERT member Christine Brown wants to be your next Gulfport City Council Member for Ward 2. Brown is challenging incumbent Barbara Banno for the spot on council.
October 18, 2012
In Sarasota and elsewhere, Emma Booker's legacy lives
February 20, 2012 - By Holly Gregory, Reporter
Three Schools in Sarasota are named after Emma Booker.
Her legacy has survived for decades, but her final resting place was lost to history.
It was recently discovered in Pinellas County
Jun 19, 2011 - The Lincoln Cemetery is part of Gulfport's and St. Petersburg's history, and maybe in the future it will designated as a historical landmark.
July 22, 2010
Addendum to corporate Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp. documents
Jul 19, 2010 - Pinellas County Emergency Management (PCEM), ... BP also pays any fees for classes orregistration. • There are .... BP grant dollars are distributed to Florida counties to reimburse their costs in responding to the catastrophe.
New keeper of neglected Gulfport cemetery has plans, few resources ...
Jun 4, 2010 - This was historic Lincoln Cemetery, final resting place for more than 6,000 .... McKinnon's father, Sarlie McKinnon Jr., was a St. Petersburg ...
May 20, 2010
Stock and Perpetual Care Fund transferred to Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp. from Lincoln Cemetery Inc. (Property DEED was not transferred).
November 23, 2009 - recorded with State of Florida Division of Corporations .
2009 Florida USA ... Sadly, Lincoln Cemetery is extremely unkempt and deteriorating. ... It has been in the care of Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp as of 2009.
December 15, 2008
Florida Not For Profit Corporation
Apr 12, 2006 - Afri Geneas
Unraveling the mysteries at a place of final rest
Who is buried in what was once the main cemetery for the city's African-Americans? Civil rights leaders, educators, soldiers, developers.
21 Aug 1992 08007 / 0659 [DEED PDF of OR document] $10,000 U V
January 30, 1989 - registers as a Florida Profit Corporation .Filing Information
Document Number K61954
As published in The Gulfport, FL Patch - Vice President of Sumner Marble and Granite, Richard Alford asked Gulfport City Manager Jim 0'Reilly in an email about donating the cemetery to the city of Gulfport. These transitions never took place.
As published in The Gulfport, FL Patch - Unfortunately there are still unknown identities buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, and because of this, many of the individuals buried do not have headstones. 5,407 bodies were known to be buried in the Lincoln Cemetery in March 2001.
As published in The Gulfport, FL Patch - Approximately 150 bodies were moved form Moffett Cemetery to Lincoln Cemetery by McRae Funeral home, (Pinellas Genealogy Society, 2006). Many of these bodies had no identity. There are three civil war veterans that are known to be buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, their names are: Record keeping over the years was difficult, and although burial dates may have been provided, some death dates are not. In addition to this, many records were lost in fire at McRae Funeral Home. (Pinellas Genealogy Society, 2006).
As published in The Gulfport, FL Patch - Lincoln Cemetery is predominately an African American cemetery and was established by Reginald H. Sumner who was the owner of Sumner Marble and Granite Inc..Sumner also owned the neighboring cemetery Royal Palm. Between August 1926 and October 1927 Arch Royal Funeral Home and Wilhelm Funeral Home removed eighty-six unknown individuals from Moffett Cemetery, which dates back to the year 1888, to Lincoln Cemetery (Pinellas Genealogy Society, 2006)." According to burial journals the first funeral took place on February 4, 1926 for 19-year-old John Peterson, (Pinellas Genealogy Society, 2006).
Pastor Basha Jordan Jr's live Facebook video April 21, 2017
Boca Ciega High School students help bring Gulfport's forgotten Lincoln Cemetery back to lifeTake walking tour of Lincoln Cemetery
Posted: 3:26 AM, May 15, 2018
Group rallies to fix historically black cemetery in Pinellas Co.Marisela Burgos
11:41 PM, Feb 27, 2017
Video of Vanessa Gray published on Youtube
Apr 12, 2016 - by Chinkapin Fishwych
Vanessa Gray stated "I came here one day and I saw it like this... I grew up around here and I guess I came back here on the trails. and stuff and saw it but, until a couple month ago, I came here and I just looked at it and like WOW this looks like a field this doesn't even (look like a cemetery)... like I can feel everybody here but I can't see them... and its time for them to shine... This is them, they are here, they a in the records, this is the last thing they will ever have their name on... You know,I don't want to be forgotten, do you? So, That being said its all about them... Its their time".
Sweeping away years of neglect at cemetery[
FOX 13 News - Tampa Bay]
Published on Apr 21, 2016
A young woman has made a neglected Gulfport cemetery her passion project. Vanessa Gray recruited volunteers to clean the property at the Lincoln Cemetery, where many African Americans and even some Civil War veterans are laid to rest.