Ridgewood Cemetery – Historical Response Committee
In October 2019, a citizen first alerted Hillsborough County Public Schools about a possible unmarked cemetery for indigent African Americans and other citizens on the King High School property. The cemetery dates back to the 1940s and 1950s.
The property’s use as a cemetery ceased for a period of years before the District’s land acquisition in 1959 from the City of Tampa.
Within days, district leaders hired a team of geophysical technicians from GeoView to begin mapping and scanning two areas on the campus.
A month later, in November 2019, the historic Ridgewood Cemetery was located on campus property based on evidence from the underground scans. Ground-penetrating radar found approximately 145 coffins, buried three to five feet deep.
Historical records vary, but they show between 250 and 268 burials at Ridgewood Cemetery. The scans done by GeoView show evidence of approximately 145 burials. Every record the district has found indicates all the burials were done in the same small area – taking up about one acre.
There are some possible reasons for the discrepancy of numbers.
- Many of the people—possibly as many as 77—buried in the cemetery were infants or small children. Their smaller coffins would be difficult to locate by scanning, especially after this much time has passed.
- Some coffins containing adult burials may have decayed underground, to the point where they cannot be detected 75 years later.
- Some remains may be located below the agricultural workshop.
- Some of the individuals may have been moved to another cemetery.
- Radar technology is good, but not perfect—anomalies in the ground may affect what it can see.
As outlined in Florida law, the district delivered the findings to the county Medical Examiner in Hillsborough County and the Florida Division of Historical Resources, which serves as the state archaeologist. After several months reviewing the report from GeoView, officials informed the district that the state does not have jurisdiction over the cemetery unless it is located on State lands, which it is not. Legal authority was then turned back over to the district.
Soon after the discovery, leaders in Hillsborough County Public Schools created the Historical Response Committee, a group of local community representatives including community groups, faith-based leaders, as well as city, county and state elected officials. The committee is tasked with reviewing historical timelines, going over steps the district has taken, and providing input on various matters regarding the cemetery.
Hillsborough County Public Schools remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families.
Architect’s Renderings for Memorial
A renowned local architect, hired by the school district to create a memorial honoring those buried at Ridgewood Cemetery, presented his renderings to the Historical Response Committee.
Jerel McCants of Jerel McCants Architecture Inc. has designed a walkable memorial. Please watch the video for more on how Mr. McCants found the inspiration for his design.