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Investigators Looking Into Possible Cemetery On King H.S. Grounds

Aerial view of King High School
An appraisal of King High School property from 1959 says a cemetery for indigent African Americans was in the area of the box on the lower right. However, a deed puts the cemetery in one of the boxes on the lower left. COURTESY HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS

Hillsborough County School officials are looking into the possibility that some grounds of King High School rest on what was a cemetery for indigent African Americans.

A member of the public came to county officials Thursday with information that shows a potter’s field – where poor people were buried without caskets or markers – might be on the Tampa school’s property.

Hillsborough School Superintendent Jeff Eakins said an appraisal from 1959 claimed a cemetery was about 470 feet east of school grounds. However, a deed from the same year showed the cemetery was farther west – possibly on what is now a field used for King’s agricultural programs.

"We believe there may be an error of some sort in the way on the appraisal that the 470 feet was measured," Eakins told reporters Friday afternoon.

The appraisal says the potters field commences "approximately 470' west of the southeast corner of the property on the south boundary."

However, the deed states "successors and assigns, shall and will assume any and all legal responsibility for the care, maintenance or disposition of that certain pauper cemetery located within the above described property."

Page 3 of a 1959 appraisal of the property King H.S. is now built on talks about the location of a potters field outside of what is now school grounds.
Page 3 of a 1959 appraisal of the property King H.S. is now built on talks about the location of a potters field outside of what is now school grounds. COURTESY HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS

Hillsborough officials and investigators from the University of South Florida are reviewing historic maps and other documentation of the 165 foot by 285 foot area. 

But even those are raising more questions.

“We have aerial photos that we’ve looked at through the years from the 1930s to the 40s to the 50s, the land was described as heavy brush at that particular time, so nothing that we could have even seen in our aerial photos have indicated that there was anything on this particular property in any of those decades,” said Eakins.

Even with the conflicting information, the school district is taking this very seriously.

A 1959 deed says that the owners of the property would assume care of a pauper's cemetery located WITHIN the boundaries of the property.
However, a deed from the same year says that the owners of the property would assume care of a pauper's cemetery located WITHIN the boundaries of the property. COURTESY HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS

"When a concerned citizen comes forward, we're not going to put this off on the back burner,” Eakins said. “This is an important topic, this is the most important topic right now we're dealing with in our district to make sure that we bring resolution through this investigation."

He added that the process will be done with the greatest respect for those who may be buried there and their descendants.

The area in question has been fenced off, and the district plans to bring in experts who will scan beneath the surface, possibly as early as Monday. Eakins said anyone with information about the grounds and cemetery should contact the school district.

The cemetery is believed to contain people buried in the 1940s and 50s. King High School formally opened in 1960.

The school is about seven miles northeast of another “lost” Tampa cemetery.

Investigators have been looking into the possibility that hundreds of bodies buried in what was once Zion Cemetery – believed to be Tampa’s first African American cemetery – are still on property where a public housing complex and two private companies now stand.