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Human remains from destroyed Black cemetery confirmed at FrankCrum staffing in Clearwater

The excavation came to fruition after months of research showed the site was once a segregation-era African American cemetery

CLEARWATER, Fla. — After beginning an excavation Monday at the FrankCrum staffing firm on Missouri Avenue in Clearwater, crews confirmed they found human remains at the site.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne says nine grave shafts were located in the work area and that "coffin staining," where discoloration of soil appears due to a decaying coffin, was also found.

Archeologists also uncovered one coffin with a viewing window, two intact skeletons and grave artifacts that would have been left by loved ones. The artifacts included a fragment of a ceramic vase and two pennies one from 1916 and one from 1923, according to Horne.

“The archeologists have concluded that the presence of intact coffins and human remains that it is an active cemetery," he said.

The excavation came to fruition after months of research showed the site was once a segregation-era African American cemetery belonging to the St. Matthew’s Baptist Church. Archaeologists say pressures of development eventually led to the cemetery’s destruction. 

Horne said the property was ultimately sold by the church to developers on the understanding that “the graves would be relocated to another cemetery in Dunedin.” But not all of them were.

Members of the Clearwater Heights Reunion Committee began coming forward in late 2019 and 2020 with memories of the cemetery after other destroyed Black cemeteries were being rediscovered across the Tampa Bay area. 

The NAACP began working with the group, FrankCrum and the city of Clearwater to search for lost remains. The efforts also led to the discovery of another Black cemetery in the area at the site of the old Curtis Fundamental School at Holt and Engman. At least 54 graves were confirmed at that location. 

Now it is up to the community to meet and discuss its perspective on what comes next. 

“I think the reflection right now is on what is the appropriate way to show respect for this active cemetery," Horne said.

Matt Crum, co-president of FrankCrum released the following statement to 10 Tampa Bay: 

"Today we learned that archeologists found a coffin and confirmed human remains on the FrankCrum property as part of the ground-truthing study that began on Monday. On behalf of myself and my family, I want to acknowledge the past, take pause to learn what we can about it, and pay our respects to the African American families, both present and past, who call this community home. This community is active in their pursuit of the facts and today is an important day in that process. Many constructive ideas are being shared about solutions and we want to continue to work with the community and the City of Clearwater to collaborate."

You can watch the entire press conference below.

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