Naples teen is calling on the community to help restore abandoned segregated cemetery
While many kids are spending their free time hanging out with friends or playing video games, 15-year-old Jonathan Rodriguez is raising awareness about Rosemary Cemetery.
“I’m trying to earn my Eagle Scout which is the highest rank and the Boy Scouts of America,” said Rodriguez. “The main requirement to become an Eagle Scout is to do a huge project for your community.”
Rosemary Cemetery is located in Naples at 1000 Pine Ridge Road within the parking lot of the CVS which is owned by the county.
"Project Reverence," the name of Rodriguez's effort, is dedicated to Plot N, an unmarked area where eight African Americans are buried at the intersection of Goodlette Frank and Pine Ridge roads. They were placed there sometime during the early 1930s. They were buried in a segregated area of the cemetery. No records were kept on who they were or where their families were from.
Rodriguez, a Lorenzo Walker Technical High School student, is getting help from his mother, Maria, a Naples native, with the project.
“Ever since I was little my family and I were always interested in this specific grave site,” said Rodriguez. “We always found that immoral to the fact that all they have here to represent their deaths are just pieces of wood in the ground.”
Once Rodriguez made the decision to tackle Rosemary Cemetery he reached out to Director of Collier County Museums Amanda Townsend.
“We know that Rosemary Cemetery as it was originally plotted, went all the way from US 41 to the railroad tracks, which is now Goodlette- Frank Road, south of Pine Ridge Road,” said Townsend. “Over the years people were buried here. But it was an unpopular cemetery. The water tables were high, the soil was sandy, and it was difficult to bury people here.”
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Townsend said information about who’s buried at the now partially abandoned cemetery come from a 1944 survey.
“It's the best record that we have,” said Townsend. “Many records were lost in Hurricane Donna. The 1944 survey indicates that in Plot N there are eight unknown Negro graves. So the project right now is to work with the property owner of record to gain access of the property, and then that's where Jonathan is going to swoop in and help us with adding fences, headstones and possibly a historic marker. We estimate the cost to be about $37,000.”
Townsend said Collier Community Foundation has pledged a $10,000 grant to the NAACP; the funds have not been used yet.
Rodriguez created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the project. He’s raised $1,630 so far.
“Tentatively, the deadline (to donate) will be September 2024,” said Maria. “At the end of Jonathan's project, if any funds are left over, he is going to donate between the NAACP of Collier County and the Collier County Museums.”
The GoFundMe page is at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-restore-abandoned-segregated-cemetery
The Facebook page for the project is: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100089009990952
Erica Van Buren is the underserved communities reporter for The News-Press and Naples Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at EVanBuren@gannett.com or on Twitter: @EricaVanBuren32
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Naples teen starts GoFundMe to help with restore segregated cemetery