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Thursday, October 08, 2009

GRAVE CONCERNS IN SUMTER COUNTY, FLORIDA

George Geder has alerted the genealogical community about another disturbing
case of a cemetery being sacrificed in the name of "progress". The Lake
Panasoffkee Cemetery in Sumter County, Florida is to be moved even though
the developer in the original land deal has decided to build their project in
Georgia instead.

Now the cemetery is a small one with what is now believed to be 50 graves of
African Americans and Seminole Indians. According to an article you can read
here from the Sumter County Times, County Admistrator Bradley Arnold
"said the gravesite is a family cemetery. When asked what criteria were used to
establish Panasoffkee as a “family cemetery,” Arnold stated “the county holds
title to the property.”

The reason for the move is "The cemetery is close to being in the middle of an
industrial area that is encroaching on the present site. We are moving it.”
The Sumter County Historical Society and relatives and descendants of those
buried at the Lake Panasoffkee site have protested the move but the County
seems determined to go ahead with it anyway.

A quick search of Wikipedia revealed that Sumter County is in a mainly rural
area of Florida that has experienced an upsurge recently due, ironically, to the
arrival of a rather large senior citizen retirement community.

It seems to be a trend lately that sites such as these are being sacrificed in the
name of progress, that a people's heritage and local history mean nothing compared
to increasing the tax revenues in town and county coffers. Recently there is
the case of an Indian mound in Oxford, Alabama being used to provide landfill
for the construction of a Sam's Club. According to the Mayor of Oxford:
"We want to take care of people's remains," Smith said. "That can be moved.
What it's going to be is more prettier than it is today."

Right. A Sam's Club is a "more prettier" thing.

The trouble is, many of these sites are cemeteries of Indians and African Americans
who in earlier times either were not allowed to be buried in town or church cemeteries
or who preferred to be buried on ancestral lands according to their cultures' rites and
beliefs. Often they were buried in out of the way places to prevent desecration.

And now ironically the land they were buried in has become valuable and they face
removal to another place.

As genealogists and family historians, we should do what we can to help the Sumter
County Historical Society convince the County Commission that there are some things
more valuable than progress. The website for the Sumter County Government is here
and there are email addresses for Mr. Arnold and the County Commissioners. You
can also make comments to the story at the Sumter County Times website as well as
vote on a poll on the subject. Perhaps some of the other Southern state historical and
genealogical societies can help the Sumter County Historical Society get the word out
to the citizenry?

Folks, you might think it's no big deal. But as time goes on, more and more of us are
going to be facing this sort of situation as businesses look to expand and local
governments look for ways to attract tax revenue.

We need to start taking a stand now before it's our families whose graves are being
moved.

4 comments:

George Geder said...

Thanks Bill,

Your post is excellent and poignant. A must read! I'm spreading the word.

Peace,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

Elizabeth said...

You're so right, Bill. Thanks for bringing this to our attention (and to George for spotlighting it in the first place).

Thomas MacEntee said...

Very good Bill - great post.

I do think that there is much power of persuasion that genealogists can bring to the table - just look at their involvement with the Michigan State Library situation.

I may call out some favors and see if one of our bloggers who works with Photoshop can create a badge for the Sumter County efforts.

Bill West said...

Thanks guys! Let's hope we can change
some minds down there!

Bill