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Tarpon Springs Rose Cemetery tells a tale of segregation

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The Rose Cemetery in Tarpon Springs, Florida contains the graves of African-Americans from Tarpon Springs and the surrounding areas. While the oldest grave marker carries the date of 1904, history tells a far different story of much earlier burials.

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The Rose Cemetery website provides a poignant story of the history of this cemetery positioned across a street from the well-manicured Cycadia Cemetery, originally open for internments of whites only. The Rose Cemetery had suffered from a decade’s long lack of funds or even bare bones maintenance.

The Rose Cemetery website explains “Rose Cementaries (sic) history began before the earliest marked grave from 1904 and reflects the areas social history and the cultural traditions that are associated with the Christian religion and earlier African American traditions. As one of the oldest African American cementaries (sic)in Pinellas County, Florida, Rose has served the black communities of Tarpon Springs, Ozona, Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, Oldsmar, New Port Richey, and surrounding areas.”

Veterans from every war that the United States has fought are buried in Rose Cemetery. There is a Civil War Confederate veteran buried here: Richard Quaris died in 1925 and served in K Company, 7th South Carolina Infantry. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans also are resting within the boundaries of Rose.

The grounds had reached a serious state of disrepair when efforts were made to begin a restoration project which continues today. During my visit to this historic site I noticed a large dumpster on site for the collection of excess vegetation and other trash. Local correctional facilities personnel, Channel 10, the St. Petersburg Times, PBS and the Suncoast News have provided labor and funding for the mass clean-up and grounds restoration.

The cemetery now enjoys non-profit status. An active Board of Directors continues the work of fundraising and maintaining this historic site. Efforts have been made to discover the many unmarked graves known to be within the cemetery. Ground penetrating radar has been utilized to locate the long lost graves, some of which are thought to date from the late 1880s.

When visiting this historic resting place show due respect. The roads within the five acre grounds are hard to see in some areas. Open ground may well contain unmarked graves. Be careful where you drive. I would suggest a walking tour through these historic and sacred grounds. As you view the graves, remember that in the not too distant past this cemetery was the only place for an African-American to be buried. They were prohibited from burial in the “whites only” cemetery across the street.

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