GULF PORT, Fla. - Next to the headstones at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport lie beer cans and overgrown weeds.
The once neglected cemetery for African Americans is getting some much needed attention - and care - thanks to church parishioners in St. Petersburg.
The Lincoln Cemetery dates back to the 1920s, when blacks and whites were buried in separate locations. The land in Gulfport holds many important keys to the history of the Bay Area, which is why Greater Mount Zion AME Church-goers were eager to give the land the respect it deserves.
"The cemetery does not generate income, so there's no resources to maintain the property," explained Pastor Clarence Williams.
The only resources are volunteers who put in hours of hard labor to clean the cemetery, out of respect for the 5,000 African Americans buried there - many during the era of Jim Crow.
"Jordan Park, Mr. Jordan is there," Pastor Williams said, listing names of those buried at the cemetery. "Mrs. Booker, Booker High in Sarasota. A lot of other people are buried there. People who contributed a lot to our society."
Now, the non-profit side of St. Petersburg’s Greater Mount Zion AME Church is taking over care of the historic burial site, vowing more permanent maintenance. Some $90,000 of BP settlement funds will be used in the effort.
"Once we get the legal weeds pulled, we can begin to pull the literal weeds out there. We're grateful for that," said Williams.
Future plans call for road improvements, a perimeter fence and the use of ground penetrating radar to pin-point the exact site of each buried soul.
"Because there was no requirement to produce a death certificate for a black in those days, people were just dumped in the cemetery and covered up," Williams explained. "I think the historical significance of places like Lincoln merit our best effort."