Rumors have been twisted for decades: a long, dark history was buried beneath the grassy hills and landscaped lawns of a rural club in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee.
Over the years, neat rows of rectangular recesses along the seventh fairway deepened in the grass, suggesting what would be confirmed this month as the sunken graves of slaves that lived and died on a plantation that once spread out of cotton near Capitol, Florida.
The discovery of 40 graves – with about a dozen others still to be found – sparked a discussion on how to appreciate those who lie still on the golf course. And it brought new attention to the many thousands of unmarked and forgotten slave cemeteries in the deep South that could be lost forever in development or indifference.
“When I stand here in a slave cemetery, it’s thoughtful and thoughtful,” said Delaitre Hollinger, immediate former president of the NAACP branch in Tallahassee. His ancestors worked in the fields of Leon County as slaves.
“They deserve much better than this,” said 26-year-old Hollinger, who is trying to push the memory of the rediscovered burial ground. “And they deserved much better than they did at the time.”
The wooden signs that identified the graves have long been broken up. For years, golfers unwittingly stepped on the cemetery.
Leon County was the center of the Florentine economy plantation during Antelope Days and had the highest concentration of slaves in the state. Just before the civil war, three of the four residents of the district were human chatters owned by elite white families.
One such family was the Houston people of Tallahassee. Since the beginning of the 18th century, through the civil war, the family operated a 500 hectare plantation. In modern times it has been divided into developers who transformed the fields into an expanse of belt centers and residential areas, some of which sprout majestic houses.
The Country City Country Club, now an 18-hole golf course in one of Tallahassee’s most sought after communities, has become an enormous range of assets.
“It is fair to say that the golf course is one of the reasons why this burial ground has been preserved for so long,” said Jay Revell, a country club historian and vice president of the commerce region.
“A hundred years ago, when the golf course was built, there was certainly no technology to decipher what was or wasn’t there,” he said during a recent country club visit.
Among the old timers of Tallahassee, there was a long talk about the long-planted plantation and its cemetery.
The stories aroused Hollinger’s curiosity. He dug into the archives of newspapers, where he found clippings from the 70s that mentioned the burial ground.
He asked for help from city officials who subsequently turned to experts, including the National Park Service.
It was then that Jeffrey Shanks, an archaeologist at the Park Service, took up the business.
Jay Revell, left, who serves as a historian for Country Club Country City, attends the 7th hole with Jeffrey Shanks, right, archaeologist at the National Park Service. Photo: AP
Earlier this month, after weeks of scanning a 7,000-square-foot golf course using ground-penetrating radar and two dogs that sniffed, Shanks gave his preliminary conclusion: the subsurface anomalies in a country club are truly graves.
Shanks described this discovery as a significant historical finding because so many slave cemeteries are not counted.
“It’s a really serious problem,” Shanks said. “It’s not just a problem in Florida. It is really a problem in the southeast. “
It is hardly a new matter. A Florida working group estimated two decades ago that there could be up to 1,500 unmarked and abandoned slaves or African American cemeteries across the state. Some Florida lawmakers want to set up a new working group to address this issue.
“We want to identify hidden graves that have been erected or destroyed or destroyed from history,” said state senator Darryl Rouson, whose district lies in the Tampa Gulf. “After identifying, we would like to make some kind of memorial for these souls.”
Discussions were held at national level on the creation of a network of African American burials. Work is also underway on a national burial record database for enslaved Americans.
As property, slaves were not given dignity in life or death, said Jonathan Lammers, a historian who drafted the Houston property report.
“They were nameless in the census, and they are nameless and unruly in death,” he said.
There are only a few known burials in the county of Leon – despite the numerous plantations that once existed in the area. Everyone would have a cemetery for their enslaved people.
“We can safely say that there are thousands and thousands of these graves in Leon,” Lammers said, “and hundreds and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, across the southeast, which are unknown today.”
There is no plan to exhume or disturb any rediscovered residues in the capital’s rural club. But how the site will be remembered remains to be discussed.
Hollinger, for example, wants to redirect golf carts and fence the area so that golfers do not penetrate the graves. He also proposes a small memorial that will tell, as he said, the untouched history of property – including how he benefited from slave labor.
He does not want the history of these graves to be “demonstrated” or romanticized. “I want us to be accurate and true in the story we’re talking about.”