GROVELAND, Fla. – One of Central Florida’s oldest cemeteries will be restored thanks to a grant that will help restore the now-abandoned gravesite.
“The African Americans that first came to this area in the late 1800s worked the turpentine mills, lumber industries which were big here, citrus industries,” said Groveland Fire Chief Kevin Carroll.
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The Oak Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville, also known as the Old Groveland Cemetery, is located behind a private home and adjacent to a church.
The city of Groveland was recently notified that they were approved for a state grant for $499,000 to restore the cemetery, which is covered in overgrown bushes and huge invasive species of trees.
“We believe it’s tremendously important to bring respect and dignity back to Oak Union Colored Cemetery here,” Carroll said.
The fire chief took on the lead in 2021 to restore the site which was donated to the African American community by a businessman, according to Carroll.
“The historians tell us here that Mr. Edge, who was one of the businessmen in this community, very prominent businessman, that he donated this acre and a quarter land for these African American folks to bury their loved ones,” Carroll said.
The cemetery was established between 1895 and 1900, with the last internment in 1951.
“We have several African American pastors in the community that are involved in this project, and we all say, this is not a black project this is not a white project; this is a human being project,” the fire chief said.
The grant for the restoration is part of the African American Cultural and Historical Grant program, created by Senate Bill 2500 and which Florida Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, pushed for.
“The lives that people lived before us are important, and I think preserving our history gives us a pathway forward in how we interact with each other,” Bracy said. “We had some extra money because of the pandemic that came through the federal government, and so we had a one-time opportunity to use it for something that we wouldn’t normally spend it on, and I thought it was the appropriate thing to do.”
The program had up to $30 million in American Rescue Plan funds to support restoration and improvement projects of museums, cemeteries and cultural centers that tell the stories of African Americans in Florida.
Before the restoration begins at the Groveland Cemetery, a Lidar scanning process has to be done from the air in order to not disturb the sacred site. The technology will help pinpoint the gravesites.
According to Carroll, it’s believed there are somewhere between 70 to 150 burials in the cemetery.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Carroll said. “We’re gonna reach through that keyhole in time and we’re gonna bring it back through history and to today.”