JACKSONVILLE, Fla.-- Tucked away off 45th and Moncrief is the final resting place for more than a thousand former men and women from Jacksonville. But, they are anything but resting in peace. Tombstones are toppled and crypts cracked open. The grass is overgrown.
The sad part: It's been that way for years.
“They’re just abandoned. Not taken care of,” Bracy Taylor said.
Taylor knows all about Mount Olive Cemetery. He buried his father there in 1972, and says he now has no idea where to find his burial plot.
“I was talking to my grandson and he asked me where is his granddad buried. And needless to say, I couldn't tell him,” Taylor continued.
That’s because only some of the graves are labeled. We found vaults scattered everywhere, from a child in a miniature vault-- to military veterans. You name them, we found remnants, with no particular burial location at all.
“It doesn’t make me feel good that I have my loved ones over in that cemetery,” Florence Jones said.
Bracy Taylor wanted to get to the bottom of things, so he took the issue to city and state leaders. Some have pledged help, but so far-- there's no signs of progress. He also went to the city's archives department. Turns out, the latest inventory was taken in 2008, and the paperwork proves the city has no location for hundreds of remains, including Taylor's father.
“He’s buried back here and he's forgotten about," Taylor said.
We did some digging of our own and learned Mount Olive was one of four final resting places for blacks in Jacksonville during the days of segregation. The properties were owned by the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, which was founded by A.L. Lewis-- Florida's first black millionaire.
For a while, church pastors tended to the land, but the last of them died off about 40 years ago, leaving the grounds with no caretaker.
“Either they weren't documenting records properly or something (else happened),” Taylor explained.
According to state law, maintenance responsibility falls to the city of Jacksonville. But this is what the city told us:
"We will research whether our responsibility includes anything other than mowing. The department is aware of the need for mowing at this location."
Taylor says the most disappointing thing is the lack of respect for the dead. As he watches kids cut through the cemetery and trash thrown about, he can't help but feel burdened. He says he won't rest until he finds his father and can buy him the headstone he's always deserved.
“No one comes back here, but yet there are buried sites back here and something needs to be done."
The earliest burial at Mount Olive dates back to the late 1800's. If some rearranging is done there, Florida law allows the moving of buried human remains-- but only by a licensed funeral director with a valid burial transit permit.