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Florida senator promises to continue fight to restore Black cemeteries ‘erased by history’

Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz’s Abandoned and Historic African American Cemeteries Act died at the Capitol earlier this month.

Historic cemeteries in the state of Florida have long gone abandoned and forgotten. Now, one Tampa senator is determined to catalog and restore them across the Sunshine State.

Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz was disappointed that despite bipartisan support, her Abandoned and Historic African American Cemeteries Act died at the Capitol earlier this month. The Tampa lawmaker plans to reintroduce the legislation during the next session, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

Florida state Sen. Janet Cruz says she plans to reintroduce the Abandoned and Historic African American Cemeteries Act during the next session. (Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

“There may be over 3,000 abandoned African American cemeteries across the state, sites forgotten and cruelly erased by history,” Cruz told The Sentinel.

The Abandoned and Historic African American Cemeteries Act had a companion bill in the House and had support by both parties after being introduced by Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell of Tampa. However, the legislation was never taken up by any committees, and it died without ever coming to a full House vote.

“The speaker could have brought it up [for a House vote], but he chose not to,” said Driskell.

Cruz had a theory, telling The Sentinel, “As was shown this past legislative session, the Republican majority in the Florida Senate was more focused on fanning the flames of their culture wars instead of working on meaningful legislation that would find and honor abandoned African American cemeteries.”

Her bill would have enacted some of the recommendations that came out of public hearings last year on burial grounds around the state. It would have also established an Office of Historic Cemeteries within the Department of State with a budget of $200,000 and three employees who would be tasked with restoration and research efforts for all abandoned cemeteries, not just those of African Americans.

The legislation comes at a time when the Florida Department of Transportation is considering bridge and highway expansion projects that are threatening several Black communities. As previously reported, Royal, a historic neighborhood just west of Wildwood in Sumter County, could be cut in half if the proposed Northern Turnpike Extension plan moves forward.

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