New search underway in Hillsborough County for forgotten graves

Hillsborough County knows there are 800 people buried at 22nd and Hillsborough Avenue in the All People's Cemetery, but it doesn't know if anyone is buried beyond the boundaries of the land that is already cordoned off.

"These are human beings," said Ray Reed, an independent historian from Tampa. "I don't care if you are a mass murderer or Mother Teresa, you deserve a sense of dignity."

This summer, Reed pointed the Tampa Housing Authority to a lost black cemetery under Robles Park, and then urged the school district to search King High School a few weeks ago. Now the county is taking a proactive approach thanks to his push for the examination of land off Hillsborough Ave.

"Without your dedication, we may not know what we are going to learn or what we needed to know to honor those who have passed before us," said commissioner Kimberly Overman.

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Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center says there's a fair chance there will be previously undiscovered remains. The only way to know for sure will be to comb it with ground-penetrating radar.

"They would bury people adjacent to cemeteries, or even within cemeteries and not mark the graves," said Kite-Powell. "It didn't happen a whole lot, but it is not unheard of for burials to be found outside the borders of a cemetery."

The area in question once housed a sanatorium. Reed questions whether the county - in only examining land it now owns and not other nearby parcels - is searching too narrowly.

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"The county is not looking where it should be looking if it truly wants to get a handle on what were its people," said Reed. "They have been let down, defrauded, betrayed, whatever words you want to use."

The county has been ordered to report back to commission after the New Year.