ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The town of Oakland in west Orange County has been awarded Florida’s Historic Preservation grant of $25,000 that will go toward the restoration and preservation of the historic African American cemetery, which dates back to 1882.
“The intention of this grant and this project is to start the process for the town to understand what kind of an asset we have and how we can manage it and take care of its perpetuity,” Steven Koontz, the town manager, said. The three-acre site covered in overgrown grass and weeds is the resting place of at least 240 African Americans who arrived in west Orange County after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared in 1863.
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“Residents that migrated from the north or from the south after emancipation, after the Civil War, so you know they came down to participate in the citrus industry to work and to live here in Oakland,” Koontz said. “We know there’s about 237 people that were buried there--there could be more than that.”
The old historic African American cemetery is rich in heritage and one that Oakland hopes will tell the stories of the African Americans who lived and raised families there.
“There’s a great cultural significance there and great history with the African American community,” Steven said. “The first thing is to get a consultant on board to help us put together this master plan to look at what it is we have and give us direction on how we should take care of it, how we should protect it.”
Among its history are African American seashell and folk grave markers that are still on site. The town says they hope to open it up to the public once it’s been restored.
“That’s part of going through this management plan and understanding those aspects of it you know, maybe we just have parts of it open, maybe we set up some paths, very distinct paths, maybe it has to be--somebody has to walk you through it, but those are the kind of things that we need to understand so that we properly take care of the cemetery and perpetuity,” the town manager said.
Another $25,000, which will be provided by the town, will help start the first part of the restoration by replacing the fencing around the cemetery.
“The town’s excited about being able to move forward with this. It’s a great asset for the town, it’s got such significance to the history and to the heritage and that’s something that we celebrate in the town of Oakland,” he said.