GROVELAND, Fla. – The Groveland City Council unanimously voted Monday night to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would annex Oak Tree Union Colored Cemetery of Taylorville.
The ordinance will be up for a second vote at the council’s next meeting, but for now, it is one of the first steps toward restoring the abandoned gravesite and preserving history.
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“It’s been a long time coming, but change is going to come,” District 3 city councilwoman Barbara Gaines said.
Council members said this project is long overdue.
The site is about one-and-a-quarter acres of land, which is covered by trees and overgrown bushes.
The City of Groveland was to bring the land into city limits so that the city can gain access to restore the area.
Groveland Vice Mayor Randolph Waite said the cemetery is extremely dilapidated.
He said that after the restoration, the site will be accessible to the community.
“What that would look like is, now, someone like me or you would be able to walk that cemetery and look and see some of the ancestors, some of the World War [veterans] that served our country and all those types of things and be able to honor them,” Waite said.
Tim Loucks, former mayor of Groveland, said he does not like the cemetery’s current name. He said it symbolizes segregation in the Jim Crow era.
Nonetheless, he said he believes the project is necessary.
“I think it’s going to recognize a time in history that we can learn from,” Loucks said.
Earlier this year, the city received $499,000 from the African American Cultural and Historical Grant Program to save the cemetery. The council said that is their budget for the restoration project.
Groveland Fire Chief Kevin Carroll has been taking the lead on the project. He said historians believe the site was donated by a local businessman to the Black community so they could bury their loved ones.
“I want to thank Chief Carroll for taking on the project. I believe there is a lot more history that’s going to be coming out from this,” Groveland Mayor Evelyn Wilson said.
City Manager Mike Hein said they plan to complete the initial phase of the project within the next 12 months. The council said they are enlisting volunteer support from city employees to help clear debris and shrubs.
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