Congressman pushing for disturbed military graves to be moved to Jacksonville National Cemetery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax investigation has revealed the remains belonging to African American veterans recovered at a forgotten cemetery on the Northside, may soon get a proper burial.

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We have learned that Rep. Al Lawson is pushing Veterans Affairs to get the remains into the Jacksonville National Cemetery.

Lawson has also been in talks with the Florida Department of Transportation to find out why one of its contractors could dig there.

Work continues on the site off Eastport Road, but crews will not be allowed to work in the area where remains were found.

FDOT said it will work with the contractor and other state agencies to attempt to recover and retrieve any displaced remains.

The situation now has the attention of Rep. Lawson after Action News Jax brought it to his attention.

“This is pretty significant. Especially disturbing where the remains of veterans are laid and so we got to do more,” said Lawson.

Despite the site being a documented military cemetery, crews working on an FDOT project were still able to dig.

“I don’t think something fell through the cracks. They had to know when they checked these maps and stuff where cemeteries are located,” said Lawson.

But the FDOT said that while the site was part of the Work Progress Administration Veteran’s Grave Registration from 1940 to 1941, “there is no record of the site on the Florida Division of Historical Resources’ Master Site Plan, which provides an official inventory of the state’s historical and cultural resources. Previous surveys also did not reveal the cemetery, or any remains.”

In an email sent to Action News Jax, an FDOT spokesperson said:

“When selecting dig locations, FDOT provides a checklist to the contractor, who must meet legal criteria and obtain necessary permits to utilize the site. The contractor worked with the property owner and submitted all proper documents, which were approved by FDOT. This dig site is not within the project limits and is approximately three miles from the I-95/I-295 construction project; digging occurred offsite through an agreement between the contractor and owner of the private property.”

The city of Jacksonville sent us a map that shows “some sort of settlement in the area” but it was all they could provide.

However, we found the cemetery listed on the city’s cemeteries report that appears to date back to the year 2000. We asked FDOT if they reviewed that list before going forward with the dig.

“It’s interesting. What I’m trying to find out from DOT, who would drop the ball on a cemetery? You know, it does not make sense,” said Lawson.

Over the weekend, state Sen. Audrey Gibson tweeted in part saying “this site should be thoroughly checked & plan in place before moving forward #SB220NeedsExpanding” – referring to Senate Bill 220 that calls for a task force on abandoned African American cemeteries.

But Lawson said federal legislation is needed too, he said that’s something he’s working on this week.