Historically black cemeteries in St. Augustine in disrepair

Historians and people with loved ones buried at historically black cemeteries in St. Augustine describe several burial grounds as overgrown, rundown and in disrepair.

They believe the problem is beyond maintenance.

“It’s been in bad shape for a long, long time,” neighbor Jason Bennett said.

Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries are two cemeteries out of the nearly 50 cemeteries throughout St. Johns County that are listed in fair condition.

“It’s sad, you can see where it hasn’t been taken care of for years and years,” Bennett said.

After Hurricane Irma, all the cemeteries in the county were assessed, and more than a dozen were listed in either poor or fair condition, meaning their conditions are deteriorating.

Action News Jax reported Monday night about Woodlawn cemetery, which is overgrown and is also listed in fair condition.

All three are historic African-American cemeteries.

“They neglected the black community. Go to a white cemetery and see what you see,” Bennett said.

Sarah Miller, with the Florida Public Archaeology Network, said throughout the county there is a pattern of African-American cemeteries being neglected.

“It’s clear as an anthropologist you’re looking at some level at institutional racism, “Miller said.

According to state law, the county is responsible for maintaining a cemetery that has been abandoned for six months, but since the cemetery isn’t licensed and regulated by the state, the county is authorized to step in, but there isn’t a legal obligation to do so.

Action News Jax reached out to the county, and a spokesperson said they’re dealing with a funding shortage and that it would be a bold decision to take on the property.

“There’s a Benjamin Franklin quote, ‘You can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their dead,’ and it’s disrespectful what’s happening out there,” Miller said.

Miller said for something to get done, neighbors need to get involved in the process.

Action News Jax reached out to the state lawmakers that represent the area to see what else can be done to maintain the cemeteries.