The Town of Oakland’s Historic African American Cemetery is being recommended for Florida’s Historic Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. The Town’s is the top-ranking project of the 58 recommended proposals statewide.
The cemetery is the resting place of freed slaves and families who migrated to West Orange County following Emancipation. It contains archaeologically significant African American seashell and folk grave markers.
“The Town’s goal is to manage and protect this historically significant site for future generations,” said Town Manager Steve Koontz. “It is an important part of the heritage of the Town and can be a place of contemplation and remembrance that will coincide with educational and cultural programming provided through the new Healthy West Orange Arts and Heritage Center at the Town of Oakland.”
Located at 16798 W. Colonial Drive, the cemetery was established in 1882 with burials continuing through the 1940s. Oakland founder James Gamble Speer gave the original deed to three Black trustees in 1917. It was later deeded to the Town of Oakland in 2014.
The site was saved from development in the area thanks to combined efforts by the Town and a group of descendants who rallied to raise awareness, clear underbrush, and conduct archaeological work.
The grant will assist the Town in planning for perpetual protection of this integral part of Oakland’s heritage with proper surveying and a long-term maintenance plan. The funding will also aid in addressing vegetative overgrowth, wayfinding signs, walking paths, identification of graves and protection of early monuments.
A craft style grave marker found at the cemetery. Research surrounding the residents buried in the cemetery, including family genealogy, migration to Florida, participation in the citrus industry, and economic, spiritual and social life, are of great interest not only to Oakland’s residents, but also to the West Orange and regional Central Florida communities.
“Being able to document the history of the cemetery is significant to understanding the story of how our community was founded and the importance of our heritage,” wrote Oakland Cemetery Committee Past Board President Betty Wade and Past Board Member Ramona Phipps in a letter of support. “Seeing the cemetery restored would add a sense of pride while honoring those who are buried there.”
The matching grant will become available July 1, 2021 and is contingent on being funded in the State Budget. The list of Small Matching Applications was submitted to the Secretary of State for review and approval.
For more information, visit www.oaklandfl.gov.