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The Marti-Colon cemetery, originally purchased by the city in 1896 as a final resting place for the residents of West Tampa, has repeatedly failed its charge of “perpetual care” over its extensive existence.[1] Backed by a collection of resources compiled by Henry Echezabal in his search to find missing graves of Centro Asturiano members, the accounts of mismanagement, failure of government oversight, buryovers, and general neglect create a story that spans over 100 years and still affects West Tampa families.

In 1903, J. L. Reed Sr. purchased the land that would encompass the Marti-Colon Cemetery. In the 1930s, when the cemetery was sold to the city so that Columbus Drive could be built, which would cut through the population centers of West Tampa, Tampa, and Ybor, the cemetery was bisected, leaving the northern side separate from the southern. The construction of Columbus required the removal of bodies from the road's path, but records indicate that not all the bodies were removed, or perhaps only their headstones were moved.

In 1939, the city leased the remaining cemetery land to A. P. Boza. Under Boza, the lease agreement’s stipulations were blatantly disregarded for decades, only being brought to public attention during various scandals, such as the abandonment of the northern section after white West Tampa citizens complained about black burials taking place, or a city work crew dumping raw sewage onto the overgrown abandoned section in 1959. In that same year, Boza and Reed Jr. both confirmed to the Tampa Tribune that potentially “hundreds” of people were buried in the northern section, with Boza claiming the majority of the graves were part of a segregated section for blacks, while Reed Jr. maintained the section was not “by any means” exclusively segregated. Only seven graves were moved before the city declared the northern section “clear,” and rezoned the land for commercial use.

The northern section, after being separated by Columbus, fell into disrepair again and again, beginning almost immediately after the construction of Columbus. Eventually the cemetery was sold into private hands, and the northern section re-zoned for commercial uses, despite the fact that it seems hundreds of graves remained underneath.

Today, the older northern section of the cemetery is topped by a strip mall, and many of the graves that are supposed to be in the remaining southern section are lost or mislabeled, particularly the early burials of African Americans, all of which seem to have been lost or never accounted for if moved. Unfortunately, this is a story that is not unfamiliar with Florida graveyards, particularly those that have served African-American communities

[1] Armando Mendez, Ciudad de Cigars: West Tampa (Tampa: Tampa Historical Society, 1995), 137.


Author is quoted in a related news story on this paper which had not yet been published.

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