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Scans Begin To See If There's A Cemetery On King High School Grounds

Oct 23, 2019

We could know by next week whether King High School is resting on a forgotten cemetery.

Experts from GeoView Inc., a geophysical consulting firm, began surveying the site of King High School in Tampa on Wednesday, scanning the southeast surface of a fenced-off area on the school's grounds for a potential cemetery.

Company president Mike Wightman said he is "hoping by the middle of next week" to provide preliminary results to the Hillsborough County School District.

"We'll be able to go through and give a range of depths that will be accurate within about six inches," Wightman said.

Investigators were called to the property after a member of the public came forward last week and presented Hillsborough County school officials with information about the possibility of the school's grounds resting on a cemetery of predominately indigent African-Americans.

Formally opened in 1960, King High School is believed to have been built on the graves of people buried in the 1940s and 50s.

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"What the radar does is it sends a signal down into the ground and we get reflections coming back and the amplitude or the nature of that reflection is based upon the electrical difference between the soils and whatever it's reflecting off of," Wightman said.

Pink flags and spray paint mark the acre and a half plot of land on the grounds of King High School, where there is believed to be a lost cemetery from the 1940s and 1950s. Thomas Iacobucci/WUSF Public Media

The information presented to officials indicates that 165 foot by 285 foot area on the school's property could be a potter’s field – where poor people were buried without caskets or markers.

"I think these are people that historically were marginalized and we have done (scans on) similar cemeteries in the past," said Wightman. "I think it's very important to go through and properly document where they were put to rest."

Investigators from the University of South Florida are reviewing historic maps and other documentation of the area as well.

A document given to reporters on Wednesday, including a thorough timeline and aerial photos mapping the 40-acre parcel where King High School sits, reviews the history of the property from 1933 - 2019.

In a document given to reporters on Wednesday, a thorough timeline mapping the 40-acre parcel where King High School sits, reviews the initial purchase of the property from 1933 - 2019. COURTESY HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS
Aerial photographs highlighting the specific areas of interest surrounding King High School show what the plot of land looked like in 1957 and in 1973. COURTESY HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS

Hillsborough School Superintendent Jeff Eakins said last week 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.

The news about the potential cemetery at King comes as investigators continue to look into the possibility that hundreds of bodies are buried in what was once Zion Cemetery – a site about seven miles southwest of the school that is believed to be Tampa’s first African American cemetery.

Eakins said anyone with information about the grounds and cemetery should contact the school district.