Radar finds 145 graves at Tampa high school

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radar
OCTAVIO JONES/TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS
Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar technology to scan a portion of King High School’s campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery on Oct. 23.

BY PAUL GUZZO
TAMPA BAY TIMES / TNS

TAMPA – Ground-penetrating radar has located 145 graves on the southern ground of King High School in Tampa buried 3 to 5 feet deep, in an announcement Wednesday by Hillsborough School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger. 

The School District announced on Oct. 18 that it had learned the mid-20th century Ridgewood Cemetery for the indigent and unknown was located on property later used to develop King High, at Sligh Avenue and 56th Street.

Just five days later, ground-penetrating radar rolled across King High’s campus in search of the some 250 people — mostly African Americans — buried there. 

Mostly for Blacks 

The school district initially said Ridgewood Cemetery was on the southeast corner of the King High campus, now the site of one small building and open land used for the school agricultural program. That was based on appraisal surveys conducted before the school district purchased the land in 1959. 

But the city of Tampa later provided the Tampa Bay Times with 1930s-era records placing the cemetery at the northeast corner of the campus — land now occupied by the school gym and the main parking area. 

Tampa opened Ridgewood Cemetery at 56th Street and Sligh Avenue in 1942. It was used as a burial ground for the indigent — mostly African Americans but other people, as well. 

Second this year 

The city sold a 40-acre plot that included the cemetery to a private company in 1957 and that company sold it to the school district in 1959. 

Records from a Hillsborough County cemetery survey conducted in 1985 by the Florida Genealogical Society indicated the people buried in Ridgewood were later moved to cityowned Woodlawn Cemetery. But Woodlawn’s records were lost in a fire in 1986. 

This is the second lost cemetery to be discovered this year. 

In August, in reaction to a Tampa Bay Times report, archaeologists went looking for and then found nearly 130 caskets from the all-Black segregation-era Zion Cemetery under a portion of the Robles Park Village housing projects.

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