As a part of the Florida Senate’s discussion of its proposed budget today, Senator Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville), and Senator Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) passed an amendment to the Senate General Appropriations Bill (SB 2500) that would set aside $100,000 for memorials to be built at Zion Cemetery & Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa. The passage of today’s amendment ahead of budget conference expresses the Senate’s strong belief in the importance of recognizing and memorializing the important contributions of African-Americans to the history of Florida.
The amendment, in conjunction with Senator Janet Cruz’s legislation to form a statewide task force for the historical preservation of African-American cemeteries and burial sites (SB 220), comes in response to reports of dozens of lost, forgotten, and ignored cemeteries of people of color across Florida. In July, the Tampa Bay Times revealed that the first African-American cemetery recognized by the City of Tampa, Zion Cemetery, along with hundreds of graves, had been largely forgotten as development atop the site proceeded over the decades. In October, Hillsborough County Schools discovered another historic African-American cemetery, Ridgewood Cemetery, on the grounds of King High School in Tampa.
The Senate Budget amendment will provide funding to the Florida Department of State for a memorial at each of these sites. The Department will be required to work with local community stakeholders to create memorials that demonstrate the state’s commitment to honoring all who have contributed to Florida’s history and ensuring dignity and respect for the deceased.
In response to the passage of this budget amendment, Senator Janet Cruz and Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson offered the following statements:
“Over the past year, I have been proud to work with our local and state leaders to correct historic wrongs as Florida has re-discovered and committed to the preservation of African-American cemeteries throughout our state,” said Senator Cruz. “While there is much collaborative work to be still to be done, I am grateful to have the opportunity to take this first step by setting aside funding specifically for Zion Cemetery & Ridgewood Cemetery Memorials in Tampa. This will allow our community to begin healing from this injustice and encourage our state to take the necessary steps to memorialize all who have contributed to Florida’s history, particularly those whose vital contributions have been overlooked for far too long.”
“Restoring the honor and dignity to those who came before us is important to history and the descendants of those buried in these cemeteries,” said Leader Gibson.