Graves Belonging to 145 African-American Adults and Children Discovered on Fla. High School Campus

Gabrielle Chung
Graves Belonging to 145 African-American Adults and Children Discovered on Fla. High School Campus

Roughly 145 unmarked graves have been discovered buried on the grounds of a Florida high school.

Making the shocking find even more upsetting, it is believed the graves are part of a pauper’s burial ground — known as Ridgewood Cemetery — that was used up until the 1950s and sold off despite it being the last resting place to hundreds of people from the local African-American community.

Officials from Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools hired a team of geophysical technicians to scan two areas of interest at the campus after cemetery researcher Ray Reed notified officials of a possible burial ground on-site, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

According to a press release, GeoView technicians found coffins buried 3 to 5 feet deep on the southern edge of the King High School campus. A scan was also done on the northeast corner of the campus, though investigators did not find evidence of any burials in that area.

A map of King High School on the grounds of Ridgewood Cemetery | GeoView, Inc.

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While the radar could not exactly determine what is buried underground, the pattern of the graves matched with historical records, according to a report from the company that conducted the scan.

Approximately 250 to 268 people — of which as many as 77 were infants or small children — were buried at Ridgewood Cemetery, according to records. Nearly all of them were African-American, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

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In the press release, school officials explained that adult burials may have decayed to a point that they cannot be detected by the radar, leading to the discrepancy in numbers. They also noted that some of the coffins belonging to children may be difficult to find and that some graves may be located under an agricultural workshop built on-site in the 1970s.

Records indicated Ridgewood Cemetery opened in 1942 and the land was bought by the school district in 1959, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The school district’s deed made note of the cemetery, the outlet reported, the burial grounds was forgotten over time.

The area where the graves were discovered was fenced off last month after the school district was notified of a possible cemetery.

A map of King High School on the grounds of Ridgewood Cemetery

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Hillsborough County Public Schools since delivered its findings to county medical examiner and state archaeologist per Florida law, who will take the next 30 days to decide whether the school district will retain possession of the land.

Officials said in a press release that they are “committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families.” They also plan on removing the agricultural building on site.

“If the land is turned back over to Hillsborough County Public Schools, our leaders will work with members of the Historical Response Committee to discuss proper ways to memorialize the individuals, how to best care for the space and learning opportunities for students at King High School and other schools.”