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Pensacola seeks state grant and considers next steps for 80 unmarked burials at Miraflores Park

The Boy Scouts building at Miraflores Park where remains were found in June 2021.
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
The Boy Scouts building at Miraflores Park where remains were found in June 2021.

A second ground penetrating radar (GPR) study revealed at least 80 unmarked burials at Miraflores Park in Pensacola. Now, the city has applied for additional funding, while its community advisory group focuses on how to honor the site and the people buried there.

In the three years since the remains of two people were discovered in the crawl space of the Boy Scouts building at Pensacola’s Miraflores Park, anthropological and archival research, and GPR surveys confirm the site’s use as a burial ground dating back to the 1880s.

Historic Preservation Planner Adrianne Walker has been leading the Miraflores Burial Ground Studyon behalf of the city.

“So now that we have that information and we have a picture of what this burial ground might look like, now we really want to take the steps to properly commemorate it, continue to get more community input, and hopefully put a marker out there and obtain a preservation plan to help us make sure that it's preserved for the future,” Walker said.

A $20,000 National Park Service grant was used to support two GPR surveys and will pay for two large 24 x 36-inch interpretive signs at the burial site.

Monday was the deadline to apply for additional funding from the state through the Florida Division of Historical Resources Abandoned African American Cemeteries Grants program.

“We submitted our application last week, seeking funds to hire a consultant to develop a long term management plan to help us make sure that this burial ground is preserved for the future,” said Walker.

The grant application totaled $35,000, including $15,000 for preservation and management and $20,000 for a memorial marker, which would also serve as a way to reinter the two individuals who were recovered in 2021.

Historic 1884 map, of what is today's Miraflores Park, shows the outline of a graveyard, where Blacks in Pensacola may have been buried.
West Florida Historic Trust
Historic 1884 map, of what is today's Miraflores Park, shows the outline of a graveyard, where Blacks in Pensacola may have been buried.

“So, it's a little bit of a loose kind of plan. I didn't have actual, renderings or hadn't really worked with, a company yet, but the notion would be a larger granite marker that you see,” she said of the possibilities. “There's a great example at Arlington cemetery, but we can actually put drawers in it, like what you see sometimes of cremated, individuals. And we will put the skeletal remains of those two individuals in the drawers and then put them into this marker to give them a final resting place.”

Numerous ideas for how the burial ground will be commemorated were discussed during the last meeting of the Miraflores Burial Ground Study Community Advisory Group last month.

“Well, one of the things that we've said is when we talk about these historical markers, we're looking at where will they be placed, in proximity to what, how should they be faced, what material, should they be made of?,” explained Lusharon Wiley, chair of the advisory panel.

“It hasn't been so much the full discussion yet on how or even what it will be, but just to ensure that where we place those markers make sense, because you still want access to the community,” stated Wiley. “But, you also want to make sure that the markers are prominently placed, though not inappropriately so.”

Expert analysis of the human remains found in the basement of the Boy Scouts building strongly suggests that the people buried there were African American, with Creole lineage. Plans are to leave the burials in place. But there were discussions about bringing back some of those cultural items, such as grave decorations and plants, that were removed by city officials over a century ago.

Generally, Wiley says she’s pleased with the direction of discussions and really likes the diversity of the 10-member advisory committee that is guiding the commemoration process.

“We have Councilwoman Teniadé Broughton, as you know she's a great historian, for this community. And we have Dr. Stringfield, Margot Stringfield. And then Lonnie Wesley,” said Wiley.

She’s referencing Broughton’s knowledge of local Black history, UWF archaeologist Stringfield’s expertise with historic cemeteries, and Pastor Wesley’s knowledge of the Black church locally; excellent resources given research shows there was a Black church in the vicinity of the burial ground.

Wiley also points to the deliberateness of the group, which she believes is vital to the process.

“So that when the commemoration occurs, we believe that we have enough of the input of those surroundings to really make sure that it's respectful and honors the unmarked graves in the way that would please the community, and, just be really, outstanding in terms of looking at the importance of, these unmarked graves,” she said. “That is something that I really appreciated, that we are not doing this in a hasty fashion, but really in a very thoughtful and mindful fashion.

And, apparently, there’s no reason to hurry.

“So this wouldn't be funded, if I understand correctly, it would not be funded until, like, July of 2025,” Walker projected.

In the interim, she says they’ll focus on gathering additional community input, which can be submitted on the Miraflores Burial Ground Study page on the City of Pensacola website or by calling a dedicated phone line at 850-435-1836.

Meantime, more archival research is planned.

“In the fall, when school starts again, we'll be talking with the University (of West Florida) about a partnership to have some student scholarship on this to help fill in some of those gaps with research,” she said. “So we're definitely trying to move things forward as we can.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.