Saturday, September 27, 2014

One of many "temporary" markers at the site that are all that remains to show some of the burial locations.

Old Oakland African-American Cemetery Eagle Scout Project: Part 2

  A few weeks ago we posted about the work of Nick, a Life Scout who was preparing to work towards completing an Eagle Scout Service Project that involved efforts at a nearly forgotten cemetery in the small town of Oakland, Florida. The small cemetery that served the local and itinerant African-American community, situated around a small sinkhole pond just off of what is now Highway 50, had its last interment around 1950 and thereafter was left to the gradual encroachment of the Florida landscape.  When the Turnpike Authority sought to create new ramps in the area they conducted surveys of the land to make sure that they were not impacting any cultural or environmental resources.  The cemetery property, when it was "rediscovered," was eventually deeded to a descendant of the community and is now, in turn, being managed by the town of Oakland.  Years of neglect had left the cemetery barely visible to the casual passer-by as invasive plants, oaks, pines, and ferns covered the graves. The markers, many of them temporary metal markers that were never replaced with stone, wore away, broke from falling trees, or slouched forward towards the pond as rains washed sandy soil down to the old sink. Finally, the tide is turning for the tiny the cemetery.

Many of the graves are in danger from overgrowth.

The soft sand surrounding the sink pond has been a poor medium for markers to be placed in.

 On September 13th and 14th, Nick brought the forces of his troop, community volunteers, FPAN, and even students from the University of Central Florida to bear upon the Old Oakland African  American Cemetery.  Nick's project had three main points of focus: 1) Create a new entrance gate for the cemetery, one that will eventually welcome runners, walkers, and bikers along a loop interpreting the site from the current West Orange Trail 2) Remove dead fall and any trees currently threatening markers in the cemetery 3) Remove years of trash deposited on site from dumping activities.  

Looking towards the cemetery from the path that leads back to the site.

All of this had to be used to hold the gate.

Nick pitches in with the cement.

Future Eagle Scout Nick and troop hand mixed all the cement on site.

  Nick's project had him collect all material as donations from the community as well as manage and lead the operations at the cemetery.  Nick even assisted in creating the metal gate.  On the morning of the 13th Nick and crew arrived to begin construction of the gate which was no small task-material had to be trucked back to the site, the gate had to be leveled on a slope, and all cement was mixed by hand at the location.  We're tired just thinking about it.  
One of several unique markers at the site.

  FPAN assisted by leading volunteer anthropology students from the University of Central Florida in marking graves and associated grave goods.  This was done to act in compliance with laws surrounding Florida cemeteries and to prevent anything of importance from being removed from the site during the clean up process.  
UCF grad student helps conduct a pedestrian survey of the site to mark headstones, markers, and grave goods.

UCF students and Professor Ziel ready to walk the lines.

Students also marked gopher tortoise burrows to keep them from being disturbed.

Many thanks to the UCF Anthro folks for helping out!

  There is more to come as the cemetery needs more work, more rehabilitation, and more interpretation.  In the meantime, we are honored to have been a small part in the work of Nick, his troop, and the volunteers that he collected to make this all happen.  Excellent job by all involved!

Nick and Betty Wade stand at the future spot of the cemetery entrance.

Nick and Betty Wade stand next to the new cemetery entrance gate.

Text: Kevin Gidusko
Pictures: Patrisha Meyers

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