Monday, August 17, 2015

"Colored Cemetery" Developer Taken to Task

D.R. Horton is the developer who has been pushing to put townhomes on the Deerfield Beach property that contains an African American Burial Ground which was termed an “Old Colored Cemetery” in historical documents.

D.R. Horton has been in the background while the City has dealt with the owner's requests concerning the development.

D.R. Horton should also face public scrutiny over its role in the desecration of the African American human remains that are buried there because, under segregation, African Americans could not be buried in “white” cemeteries. 

The following letter was written to D.R. Horton urging them to face their responsibility and back away from this project, which would be good corporate public policy and recognize the public outrage for placing greed before empathy. 
This would go far in addressing past racial injustices and show sensitivity towards African Americans.





ROBERT E. BOUTWELL, P.A.                                                                                                  TELEPHONE: 954-428-0300
A. THOMAS CONNICK, P.A.                                                                                                                   FAX: 954-428-6506

August 13, 2015

12602 Telecom Drive
Tampa, FL 33637






4220 Race Track Road
Saint Johns, FL 32259



DAVID D. AULD, President, CEO




431 Fairway Drive
Suite 350
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441

            Re:      SE 2 Avenue and SE 5 Court, Deerfield Beach, Florida

Dear Corporate Leadership of D.R. Horton, Inc.:

 This letter concerns the African American burial ground located at the above referenced location.
At this point in time, D.R. Horton, Inc., knows that this location was a burial ground for African Americans.  D.R. Horton, Inc., knows that there are remains of African Americans that are at this site.   D.R. Horton, Inc., knows the legacy of second-class citizenship of African Americans, which mandated that because of segregation, African Americans could not be buried at regular cemeteries, and had to be buried at places such as this location.

The Bible says:  “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (Bible, James 4:17, New Living Translation)

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”

There are a number of people in the African American community and in the Deerfield Beach community that are deeply upset that this burial ground is going be ignored so that D.R. Horton can build housing on this property.  The African Americans whose remains are at the site lived their lives as second-class citizens; they were buried there as second-class citizens; some of their remains and markers were previously removed as second-class citizens; and, those whose remains are now there should not have their remains removed as a final insult to their second-class citizenship. 

 It is totally inadequate to move the remains to another location.  That is a superficial pretend solution that ignores the truth.  That is a gross insult to the remains of these dead African Americans; it is a gross insult to current African Americans and to sensitive people in the Deerfield Beach community and the broader American community.   This issue must be made personal: you would not want that to happen to your deceased loved ones, and if it were done, it would show an insensitivity to both them and to you.  In this situation, because of the historical second-class citizenship of African Americans, not leaving their remains at that location is an insult to them, to their relatives, to the African American community and to the broad American community. 

 There every reason for this location not to become a housing development, and for those African Americans’ remains not to be further disturbed: out of respect for them, as a way of remembering and honoring those whose lives and resting place were as second-class citizens, out of historical respect for them and those similarly situated in institutionalized racism, and out of respect for the African American community, the Deerfield Beach community and the American community.

The owner of this property bought this property with “eyes wide open,” knowing it was an African American burial ground.  But, despite much oral information and record information, the human remains of these African Americans were not found during the 1980s.  That situation has changed, and there is substantial evidence of the human remains of these African Americans.  D.R. Horton, Inc., now knows these facts.

D.R. Horton, Inc., as an organization, and each individual in a leadership position of D.R. Horton, Inc., has to ask himself and herself: Is D.R. Horton, Inc., a company with a social conscience, or is it just an amoral corporate shark that relentlessly moves forward and devours everything in its path?

I request a meeting with VPDP Rafael J. Roca at your Deerfield Beach office.  There will be others in attendance with me at this meeting.  D.R. Horton, Inc., is presented with the opportunity to do the right thing.

In the arena of public opinion, D.R. Horton, Inc., will either be respected or condemned for its decision concerning this property.

Thank you.


A. Thomas Connick

Monday, August 3, 2015

Deerfiel Beach Blacks Disrespected In Life and Death

Blacks Disrespected In Life and Death
How can distraught Deerfield Beach residents get a piece of private land that was once a cemetery/graveyard called the “Old Colored Cemetery” in some records, turned into an historical memorial?  How can residents prevent townhouses from being built on top of dead African Americans’ remains?

This land could be made into a memorial to all the black Broward County residents who, because of segregation, were buried in odd lots and side yards and whose locations (if not their memories) are lost forever to their descendants. 

Who can make this happen? Who should be notified about this?  Who has the power/clout/resources to make this happen?  That is what a group of residents were discussing at the recent meeting held by former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Ben Preston. Other than a petition to preserve the site, nothing concrete was decided, but a lot of good ideas were aired.

It seems to me that the public is being kept in the dark about this, very little information has been released as to what is happening, what might happen and what the rules and regulations are involving a situation such as this.  This meeting was not held by our representatives, it should have been, but it wasn’t, we haven’t heard much from them at all. 

The site on a five acre lot at the intersection of SE 2nd Avenue and SE 5th Court, Deerfield Beach, is owned by a private owner who, after being assured by test after test that all remains had been removed is distressed to find that wasn’t the case.  Now what?

And, why is the digging for remains continuing.  It seems to me that finding as much as they have is certainly an in-your-face-sign that there are many more, as many as 300 if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, after all the ones found were right where the relatives said they would be.  It’s time for the State/County/City to step in and declare it an historic site and shake loose some bucks to acquire the property.

There is no possibility of relocating all the remains.  Sure you could relocate the few skull and leg bones and teeth but it would be impossible to find all the decomposed molecules and small scattered remains of the decedents.

Picture your precious relatives being treated this way, picture only some of a loved one’s parts dug up and relocated, how would you feel?  Respect that was once denied can now be given to an entire group of people. 

This is a perfect opportunity to create a memorial; there is no African American Cemetery memorial in Broward County.  The State/County/City should buy this land and turn it into a memorial park. 

Here is some quick research on Google.  Some counties and cities honor their past, some not so much.

From the New Times:
Deerfield Beach resident Laura Lucas, who has written three books about the city's history, obtained death records from, a website run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is reputed for keeping careful genealogical records.

 She looked at deaths in the city between 1920 and 1939 and isolated the black people. If the burial place was listed as "Deerfield" or "Deerfield Beach," she concluded they must have been laid to rest in the "Old Colored Cemetery" because that was the only place black people could have been buried. Her list is 40-plus pages and includes about 300 names.

Sitting in his office at Rahming-Poitier Funeral Directors, Theo Times pulls out Lucas' list.

"The city has a record of only one person being moved," he says. "So where are all these people?"


An African American Cemetery in Miami privately owned in disrepair.
WSVN -- February is Black History Month, and a site filled with black history, the final resting place for a who's who of prominent black South Floridians, is in Miami. Also resting there are blacks born into slavery, but good luck finding many of their graves. And even worse, part of the cemetery may be sold to pay back taxes owed on the property. What is going on there? Here is Patrick Fraser with his report, "Dying Cemetery."

B.J. Chisvar: "You have Gwen Cherry over here."

If you care about the black people who helped shape South Florida...

B.J. Chisvar: "The Rolles, the Bullards, the who's who in the black community."

Then you might care about where they are buried.

B.J. Chisvar: "Oh yeah, D.A. Dorsey. First African-American millionaire in the South."

You might want to see their gravesites, but it's not easy.

Gloria Fisher: "That's a shame for God. Something really needs to be done right here about that grave."

From the air, you can see that Lincoln Memorial Park covers 20 acres in Miami. It was once a stunning sight, 1,000 concrete tombs stacked side by side, inches apart.

Now it's a sad sight, covered with weeds, vines, shrubs, making it almost impossible to find anyone's grave.

Melvin Henderson: "I was hurt, very hurt."

Patrick Fraser: "Why?"

Melvin Henderson: "Because I couldn't get in."

Melvin Henderson called me after he tried to visit his wife's grave and discovered what neighbors have complained about. Not only is Lincoln Memorial usually locked; it's an eyesore.

Serena Cooper: "There is a lot of rodents coming out of there. Rats, roaches, snakes, lizards, spiders."

Beginning in the 1920s, the cemetery was one of the few places where blacks could be buried.

Jessica Williams: "This property, it's hallowed ground. This is an historic landmark."

Historic landmark? Yes. Forgotten and run down? Absolutely.

Elyn Johnson: "If they are not interested in the pioneers, if they're not interested in their race."

I tracked down the owner of the cemetery, Elyn Johnson, who inherited it from her godfather in the 1950's. With 1,000 tombs, the cemetery is full, but the state of Florida considers it abandoned, and with no trust fund, no money coming in, Elyn is too old and too broke to maintain it.

Elyn Johnson: "It's a heartache, a financial burden, and when you don't have the money and you don't have the help, it's a drain."

But her niece, Jessica Williams, offered to unlock the gates so Melvin could try to find his wife, Willa Mae.

Melvin Henderson: "I don't think I will be able to walk over these graves there."

Also there that day was B.J. Chisvar, a former Army veteran who heard about the abandoned cemetery and was heartbroken.

B.J. Chisvar: "People born in the 1800s worked hard just like every other American. Good people. There's no reason to forget them."

Elyn Johnson had kept a log of every person buried here since 1924. Willa Mae's name, buried in 1969, was there. Melvin showed us the general area.

Melvin Henderson: "That one looked like it. It's right there."

But look. Hundreds of tombs just above the ground are under a couple of feet of thick vines and weeds. I can dig down, pull it back, but even after you find the tomb, the vegetation has destroyed the nameplates and the letters of the names.

We looked for Willa Mae's gravesite. We couldn't find it.

Melvin Henderson: "I tell you, this is terrible."

Before we left, B.J. promised Melvin he would try to get some help to clear this 20-acre site to find Willa Mae.

B.J. Chisvar: "Something we learned in the Army is that you never stop serving."

Three months later, B.J. and Jessica called me and told me, "Come back, and bring Mr. Henderson."

B.J. Chisvar: "There she is. There's your beloved wife."

Melvin Henderson: "Yeah. (crying) Thank God."

Melvin had not been here in years. Covered by weeds and vines, part of Willa Mae's name was gone, but a group of Miami-Dade school bus drivers had heard about the run down cemetery and came out to help.

Felicia Johnson: "I kept crossing over Mrs. Henderson, and I never stopped here. I kept going to other locations. Something told me to stop and look. I pulled over some brush and her name was just sticking right out at me."

After six months of work, the small group of volunteers has cleared a portion of Lincoln Memorial, but to restore and reopen the cemetery, they need a lot more help. So we started contacting prominent black politicians and community leaders. The response?

B.J. Chisvar: "Limited to none, Mr. Fraser."

And its now getting urgent. Part of the cemetery may be auctioned off since $1,900 dollars in property taxes have not been paid.

B.J. and Jessica have started a foundation to finish clearing Lincoln Memorial, to reopen it, because to quote a prominent black man, they have a dream.

Jessica Williams: "The community itself can benefit from it. People of all races, just come in and just go on a tour and just learn about the people that are buried here."

This is the history of the black community of South Florida. Notice you don't see many tombstones on the graves. There is a historical reason. It's called hatred.

B.J. Chisvar: "There were no headstones originally because the very powerful Ku Klux Klan of Dade County did not believe that African-Americans deserved Christian burials."

George Butler's family bravely told the KKK in 1924 to shove it, and put up a headstone.

February is Black History Month. This is black history. February will end, but Lincoln Memorial should not be a dying cemetery.

Patrick Fraser, 7News.

 Woodlawn CemeteryWoodlawn Cemetery
1936 N.W. 9th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311, 954-745-2140

Woodlawn Cemetery, located south of Sunrise Boulevard and east of I-95 at the corner of N.W. 19th Avenue and N.W. 9th Street, is a historical resting place of many pioneering African-American residents. Several people owned the property and records were kept by many people, so care of the site suffered.

The cemetery began to deteriorate in the 1990's but the City of Fort Lauderdale wanted to retain this part of heritage and obtained the property. The City invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and made renovations and necessary improvements to bring the cemetery up to standards expected by the community. Currently, no burials are permitted in this cemetery since no records are available of the burials or plotting of how burials occurred. Markers and monuments are allowed.

Cemetery notes and/or description:
Woodlawn Cemetery was the first African American Cemetery in Broward County Florida and also served the indigent. It was originally privately managed, but is now under the management of the City of Fort Lauderdale. It is located between NW 9th Pl., NW 19th Ave., NW 9th St. and Interstate 95. At one time, the cemetery extended to where the expressway now runs. Many of the stones are in a state of disrepair and unidentifiable. The City has placed markers with information and names of persons that are known to be buried there. Unfortunately, most of these burial locations will never be identified, but many of these persons are listed in the Florida Death Index.

A portion of the cemetery was bought by DOT and developed into I-95.

African-American cemetery that dates back to 1900 to receive historic designation
By Sun Sentinel

 A cemetery in the Heart of Boynton Beach neighborhood may look haphazard and incomplete to some, but city officials say there's a lot of history underneath those tombstones.

In 1900, the parcel now known as the Barton Memorial Park and Cemetery on the northwest corner of Northwest 12th Avenue and Northwest Fifth Street became one of the first unofficial African-American burial grounds in Boynton Beach, according to city documents.
On Tuesday, it was expected to become the first cemetery in Boynton Beach to receive a historic designation.
Although only about 20 headstones are visible on the grounds, even more bodies were buried there long ago, said Warren Adams, the city's historic preservation planner.
"Some couldn't afford headstones, so they made their own out of wood or had none at all," he said. "Research has indicated there are many other unmarked graves, some of which can be identified by indentations in the ground."
City officials say that the tiny, .26-acre site is a vital piece of the city's African-American heritage and they plan to add the site to the city's Cemetery Trail — a walking tour of the city's cemeteries that details their historical significance.