Non-profits fight over historic African American cemetery

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Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport is resting place to thousands of African Americans – many of which died in an era where slavery still existed.

Vanessa Gray has volunteered for more than a year to make improvements.

Removing piles of brush and trash. 

Gray even worked to fill in a grave – covering exposed human remains from a collapsed burial vault.
 
“These people stood up for my rights and I have to stand up for theirs,” Gray said.

Gray founded a non-profit called the Lincoln Cemetery Society. 

Last week she took ownership of the property in a deed transfer from the cemetery’s old owner who lives out of state.

Her takeover of the property is something that isn’t sitting well with the Pinellas County Urban League and Mount Zion AME Church.

“It’s frustrating to us,” said Rev. Watson l. Haynes, who is the Urban League President.  “The way it was done bordered on deceptive.”

The Urban League worked years to obtain a promised $90,000 from the county government to repair the cemetery and was planning to acquire the historic property and manage it themselves.

However -- Gray, a 23-year-old waitress beat them to it, which means the $90,000 is no longer there.

“I don’t know why she’s doing it, why would you want ownership of a cemetery?” Watson said.

Unlike them, Gray doesn’t have the $90,000 secured…and will owe Gulfport $32,000 in liens for when they did maintenance on the property.

This leaves serious question over how she will be able to financially manage the property.

“It’s one thing to clean it, but we are talking about owning and managing it.” Watson said. “We are talking about families involved, who’ve got to be buried out there.”

Gray told FOX 13 she's trying to raise money online.

Though Mount Zion and the Urban League plan to question the legality of Gray’s acquisition she still hopes the two non-profits can work together.

“At the end of the day it comes down to one common goal,” Gray said.  “That goal is still there.”

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