Who owns your heritage?

Heritage, featured

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – What does former slave Elder Jordan, Sr., civil rights leader Dr. Ralph Wimbish and Dr. Robert Swain, the first black dentist to build a clinic in St. Pete, all have in common?

They are all buried at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, 600 58th St. S, and the question now is what will happen to the cemetery if it falls into the wrong hands?

An emergency meeting of community leaders and stakeholders was called last Thursday after news broke that the historic cemetery where African Americans buried their dead during the area’s long courtship with Jim Crow had a new owner.

The new owner is a 23-year-old waitress named Vanessa Gray, who also happens to be white.  Gray spent the past 14 months organizing volunteer cleanups and her efforts were commended.

In last week’s meeting, held at the Pinellas County Urban League, President and CEO Watson Haynes revealed he and other community leaders approached Rev. Clarence Williams of Greater Mt. Zion AME Church about taking over the neglected property and spearheading rehabilitation efforts.

Community activist Gwen Reese

Community activist Gwen Reese

Williams and the church’s nonprofit organization, Cross and Anvil Human Services, accepted the challenge and got busy on plans to clean up the property. They put Rene Flowers in charge of writing a grant that awarded the project $90,000 from the BP oil spill and sought the help of Dr. Antoinette Jackson, Ph.D. from the University of South Florida and her students to start locating lost graves.

Williams said he received a phone call from Gray on Feb. 27 saying she had secured ownership of the cemetery.

“I asked her over a year ago what was her interest,” said Williams. “She said they just wanted to help clean up and maintain.”

It appears Gray has been working on this plan for some time. Unbeknownst to Williams, she had incorporated the nonprofit Lincoln Cemetery Society last June.

So who owned the cemetery in the first place? According to the Tampa Bay Times, the late Susan Alford gave the cemetery to Sarlie McKinnon III in 2009. The cemetery had been in her family for decades.

McKinnon said he would maintain the nine-acre parcel of land, and created a nonprofit called Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp. He then proceeded to collect $109,000 in perpetual care funds, reneged on his promise to keep up the historic burial site and moved to Georgia. His nonprofit was dissolved in 2012.

For years now, different volunteers have tried to help maintain the property where approximately 6,000 African Americans are buried.

Alford’s son Richard does not believe his family has any claim to the property but apparently signed over a quitclaim deed to Gray on Feb. 8.

According to the Times, Attorney Peter Rudy Wallace, who represents Richard Alford, said the family transferred the property to McKinnon completely, however, McKinnon failed to officially claim the cemetery.

Currently, the cemetery does not have a clear title, and now it rests in the hands of McKinnon.

Williams is most concerned about sustainability. He feels that not a person or family should own the cemetery.

“I just wanted to make sure that a structure was in place to facilitate the cemetery’s existence beyond me and every other person with a limited lifespan,” he said, pointing out that historical black cemeteries were anomalies of Jim Crow and should be considered black institutions.

Community activist Gwen Reese, who organized a cleanup in 2015 and whose sister’s grave is lost to time there, echoed Williams’ sentiments.

“We need to seek historic designation,” she asserted, pointing out that you do not have to own a property to do so.

Williams said another possibility should be explored.

“When you’re talking about mapping that cemetery like I wanted to do and gridding it and start doing ground penetrating radar, you’re talking about an investigation,” he said. Supposed there’s something out there that they don’t want us to find? …Could this be a rouse to keep the grass cut enough for you to hush because when I pull out that radar, it may make some people uncomfortable.”

NAACP St. Petersburg Branch President Maria L. Scruggs said: “This is not a black and white issue. This is a legal issue that has to be resolved with ownership.”

Without McKinnon’s signature, no one will have a basis to bring any type of legal action.

“Pastor has done a very thorough job and what impresses me is that he’s been meticulous, forthcoming and inclusive as well as thorough for many months,” said State Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “What upsets me is that it appears that Ms. Gray has been less than that for the same period of time.”

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3 thoughts on “Who owns your heritage?

  1. Concerned Citizen

    You may want to check your facts before you print them… May also want to interview people that you publish things about. Did you ever contact Vanessa Gray before you wrote this? I don’t see ANY quotes form her in your editorial. Are you a journalist or is this more FAKE NEWS? Your source for information is the Tampa Bay Times? What kind of reporter regurgitates somebody’s report and then does a one-side job of it… See NOTES:

    Who owns your heritage?
    March 9, 2017 by TWC in Featured -BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
    ST. PETERSBURG – What does former slave Elder Jordan, Sr., civil rights leader Dr. Ralph Wimbish and Dr. Robert Swain, the first black dentist to build a clinic in St. Pete, all have in common? They are all buried at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, 600 58th St. S, and the question now is what will happen to the cemetery if it falls into the wrong hands? (***NOTE: Are you insinuating something???)
    An emergency meeting of community leaders and stakeholders was called last Thursday after news broke that the historic cemetery where African Americans buried their dead during the area’s long courtship with Jim Crow had a new owner.
    The new owner is a 23-year-old waitress named Vanessa Gray, who also happens to be white. Gray spent the past 14 months organizing volunteer cleanups and her efforts were commended.​​..
    ​…Williams said he received a phone call from Gray on Feb. 27 saying she had secured ownership of the cemetery.
    “I asked her over a year ago what was her interest,” said Williams. “She said they just wanted to help clean up and maintain.” (***NOTE: Please see email sent from Vanessa Gray to Pastor Williams on May 7, 2016 on this page INITIAL CONTACT)
    It appears Gray has been working on this plan for some time. Unbeknownst to Williams, she had incorporated the nonprofit Lincoln Cemetery Society last June.
    (***NOTE: Please see all articles on GOOGLE that mention the forming of Lincoln Cemetery Society during this time. Read the paper.)
    So who owned the cemetery in the first place? According to the Tampa Bay Times, the late Susan Alford (***NOTE SEE DEED 1992 For Profit Florida PRIVATE Corporation LINCOLN CEMETERY INC. Posed online at Pinellas County Records ) gave the cemetery to Sarlie McKinnon III in 2009. (***NOTE: McKinnon transferred stock and the perpetual care fund to McKinnon’s NOT FOR PROFIT LINCOLN CEMETERY MEMORIAL PARK CORP. with a Stock Transfer Agreement. NO PROPERTY DEED WAS TRANSFERRED OR RECORDED as evident by CLERK OF COURT, PINELLAS TAX COLLECTOR, and TITLE SEARCH Dated 9-23-2014 ordered by Pastor Williams) The cemetery had been in her family for decades…. (***NOTE SEE TITLE SEARCH shows still in LINCOLN CEMETERY INC. owned by Susan Alford and Family)
    ​…Williams is most concerned about sustainability. He feels that not a person or family should own the cemetery. (***NOTE: DEED is in the name of LINCOLN CEMETERY SOCIETY INC. A FL NOT FOR PROFIT CORPORATION not an individual or family)
    “I just wanted to make sure that a structure was in place to facilitate the cemetery’s existence beyond me and every other person with a limited lifespan,” he said, pointing out that historical black cemeteries were anomalies of Jim Crow and should be considered black institutions.
    Community activist Gwen Reese, who organized a cleanup in 2015 and whose sister’s grave is lost to time there, echoed Williams’ sentiments.
    “We need to seek historic designation,” she asserted, pointing out that you do not have to own a property to do so. (***NOTE: Please refer to what Florida State actually says about private property and National Register Guidelines http://dos.dos.myflorida.com/historical/preservation/national-register/national-register-faqs/#254)
    Williams said another possibility should be explored.
    “When you’re talking about mapping that cemetery like I wanted to do and gridding it and start doing ground penetrating radar, you’re talking about an investigation,” he said. Supposed there’s something out there that they don’t want us to find? …Could this be a rouse to keep the grass cut enough for you to hush because when I pull out that radar, it may make some people uncomfortable.” (***NOTE: Explain??? What could or would you be investigating???)
    NAACP St. Petersburg Branch President Maria L. Scruggs said: “This is not a black and white issue. This is a legal issue that has to be resolved with ownership.”
    Without McKinnon’s signature, no one will have a basis to bring any type of legal action.
    “Pastor has done a very thorough job and what impresses me is that he’s been meticulous, forthcoming and inclusive as well as thorough for many months,” said State Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “What upsets me is that it appears that Ms. Gray has been less than that for the same period of time.” (***NOTE: Please see email sent from Vanessa Gray to Pastor Williams on May 7, 2016 on this page) ( ***NOTE: Also READ EVERY ARTICLE published on LINCOLN CEMETERY in the NEWS for over a year that says otherwise…)

    (***NOTE: Also see FRONT PAGE TBO Article Unearthing respect: Woman finding lost graves at black cemetery in Gulfport – by CAITLIN ASHWORTH
    Tribune correspondent Published: April 14, 2016 …’Gray said she has permission from the owner to work there, and she updates him once a month on her progress.
    She has created a group on Facebook called Lincoln Cemetery Society that is organizing a cleanup on Tuesday.
    “This needs to get done,” she said. “I’m just going to do it until it gets done.”
    Then she resumed digging.’)

    INITIAL CONTACT EMAIL AME Church:
    From: “Vanessa Gray”
    Date: May 7, 2016 3:28 PM
    Subject: Lincoln Cemetery
    To:
    This email is for Pastor Williams.
    Hello, my name is Vanessa Gray and I’ve been cleaning up Lincoln Cemetery for the last 6 months. Recently I’ve had conversation with the owner of the cemetery. I believe that we are working on the same goal. I would love to speak to you about what I’ve done, what I’ve been working towards and honestly, why. This cemetery has a special place in my heart. Even though I have no family or friends buried there, I can’t explain the connection I feel to it. I’ve spent countless hours, resources, and effort into building my dream for Lincoln. I hope we can meet and I could talk to you about my project. You can call me at 727-XXX-XXXX or email back.
    Thank you for your time,
    Vanessa Gray

    Reply
  2. Concerned Citizen

    Waiting to see if you are FAIR and UN-BIAS and actually post my comments about this article… Maybe do an interview with the subject and post a followup editorial… Everyone watching this says you won’t! They say you are just a propaganda machine and published this kinda stuff to promote a ONE-SIDED view without doing ANY research or investigation. I hope otherwise… I hope that the media is here to REPORT on news. And even though they get it wrong sometimes, they retract and correct themselves as responsible stewards of OUR pubic information… Otherwise President Trump is correct… Its all FAKE NEWS! Which is it for you??? PROVE IT!

    Reply
  3. Concerned Citizen

    Question… Since the author, RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer, has specifically referred to the color of only one person in this article:
    “An emergency meeting of community leaders and stakeholders was called last Thursday after news broke that the historic cemetery where African Americans buried their dead during the area’s long courtship with Jim Crow had a new owner. The new owner is a 23-year-old waitress named Vanessa Gray, who also happens to be white. ”
    What color are ALL the other people in this article??? Do we assume that EVERYONE else
    mentioned is BLACK??? Are they? Please specify…

    Reply

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