The NAACP in Hillsborough County is asking Tampa, Florida to recover the bodies of Black Americans and Cubans, including a Black senator from the Reconstruction Era, who are presumed buried under a parking lot. 

Former state senator Robert Meacham’s unmarked burial site, and the bodies of more than 1,000 other forgotten Black Americans, are presumably located under a parking lot used for the Italian Club Cemetery, formerly the College Hill Cemetery, The Washington Post reported. The NAACP now wants the lost graves restored through a city-funded archaeological investigation as the nationwide celebration of Juneteenth approaches this weekend.   

On Saturday, NAACP President Yvette Lewis said the history and contribution of Black Americans in the U.S. have been silenced and she doesn't want a “token gesture.” 

“People don’t know where their loved ones are,” Lewis said. “If this city takes care of the enslaved men and women, show me. Do the right thing. Find their bodies so that their souls can rest. Robert Meacham is a hero. Give him the dignity he deserves.” 

According to Daily Tampa News, Meacham, Florida’s first Black senator, was buried at the cemetery in 1902 at age 66. The cause of his death is unknown. 

Interest in his true resting place grew after the Tampa Bay Times launched an investigation in 2019 to learn about what happened after the gravesite was purchased by Italians in the 1950s. They found that hundreds more graves were missing and had not been counted for.    

A spokesperson for Tampa, Janelle McGregor, said the city is eager to honor the lost burial sites despite saying they were not notified of the matter by the NAACP or the cemetery, WTSP reported.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Florida), the main sponsor of a bill to create a task force that would locate Black cemeteries, acknowledged the issue was not specific to just Tampa. 

“It really is an issue throughout Florida, and frankly I think throughout many places in the United States,” she said. 

Written in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Meacham is described as a man who dedicated his life educating Black Americans by highlighting the power of voting. In his earlier life, Meacham, whose father is said to have been white, was enslaved. After he was freed, he later became a state senator and implemented Florida’s public school system, according to The Washington Post. 

Lewis said the time has come for Tampa to finally correct its past.

"The city never has told our history,” she said. “The City of Tampa … needs to honor and own this and right this wrong.”