About 145 coffins believed to be part of a mid-20th century cemetery for the indigent were found buried under a Tampa, Florida, high school, officials said.
The Hillsborough County school district said Wednesday that geophysical technicians found “clear evidence” of burials at the Clarence Leon King High School campus.
School officials believe the caskets are part of Ridgewood Cemetery, a historic paupers’ burial ground from the early 1940s that was owned by the city, according to the Florida Genealogical Society. King High School opened in 1960, according to the school’s website.
Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman with the school district, said officials began investigating last month after a person told a school board member of the possible location of the cemetery.
For nearly two weeks, technicians hired by the district used ground penetrating radar to confirm the location of the caskets. The coffins are buried 3-5 feet deep in about an acre of open land, and near a small building used by school’s agricultural program, the district said.
“The radar, by itself, cannot tell exactly what is under the surface,” the district said in a statement. “However, the pattern of the findings matches with historical records of a one-acre cemetery on the site.”
Records indicate the site could hold the remains of more than 250 people, nearly all of whom were African American, the school district said.
The area has been fenced off since last month and will remain like that for the time being. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner and the state’s archeologists are expected to review the district’s findings in the next 30 days. The agencies will decide whether they will take possession of the land or turn it back to the school district, officials said.
It’s not the first time that a forgotten burial site is discovered in the city. In September, residents of an apartment complex in Tampa were forced to move after learning they had been living at the site of Zion Cemetery – likely the first African American burial ground in the city, CNN affiliate WFTS reported.
Since then, the Tampa Housing Authority has been working to relocate nearly 100 residents of the Robles Park Village.
Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, told CNN affiliate WFLA that she was saddened to learn that another site had been discovered.
“I am sick of this. This hurts. Deeply. That we can be thrown away and nobody tells our history. Nobody is telling these people’s history and these people’s story,” Lewis said.