MIAMI — Charles Flowers said he remembers attending a classmate’s funeral there. A retired school assistant principal said she was given a tour of Lemon City in 1935, and the site was one of the places she and her tour guide visited on Dec. 2 of that year.
Since The Miami Herald this week published a story on the discovery of human remains and what appear to be parts of broken caskets beneath an affordable housing construction site on Northwest 71st Street near Interstate 95, people have been contacting Enid Pinkney to share their memories about what many believe is a resting place for some of Miami’s black pioneers.
Pinkney, chairperson of the African-American committee for the Dade Heritage Trust, said like another historical site that she helped to preserve, it appears that the buried spirits may be rising to the surface to make their presence known.
The purported cemetery is at the site of the proposed Village Carver residential towers now under construction by the Carlisle Development Group and Biscayne Housing Group.
Pinkney said she hosted a meeting with about 30 people on Monday, June 15 to discuss the black cemetery.
“I felt that we had a good meeting yesterday…It’s an insult to injury that you can have a cemetery in a black community and the city doesn’t know anything about it,” Pinkney said on Tuesday, June 16.
Johnny Person, 70, and his brother Roy, 68, attended the meeting. Johnny said he doesn’t understand the mystery.
“I’m baffled that there’s such a mystery today. The cemetery was quite visible when I entered first grade in 1945,” the retired truck driver said.
He said he even knows its name, The Lemon City Cemetery.
Flowers, 74, is a retired pilot who recalls that when he was in the ninth or tenth grade at Dorsey High School, a classmate drowned in a nearby rock pit and was buried at the cemetery.
“I attended a funeral more than 60 years ago,” he recalled, adding, “He was a classmate. I’m trying to remember his name. I know he was living with his grandmother and several of us from our class went over there. He went swimming in a rock pit and the rock pit was on 75th street and between 18 and 20 Avenue. I lived on 73 Street.”
Dorothy Edwards is a former assistant principal at Miami Northwestern Senior High, located a few blocks west of the construction site. Edwards declined to be interviewed, but told Pinkney that she was aware of several families whose relatives are buried at the site.
Pinkney said she was hesitant about becoming involved in efforts to preserve the site because of how busy she is working with the Dade Heritage Trust and the Historic Hampton House Trust.
But the type of work Pinkney does for DHT virtually demanded her involvement.
What’s more, she said, members of the community called her on her initial refusal to take action.
“People said, ‘You stopped them from building on the Circle, and now they’ve found black bones and you don’t have time.’ So I said, ‘OK,’” Pinkney recalled with a chuckle.
Pinkney played a key role in preserving The Miami Circle, the controversial archeological site near downtown Miami that was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a National Historic Landmark after Native American artifacts were discovered there.
Bringing attention and belated honor to long-forgotten members of the Miami community is a process in which
Pinkney has been involved for at least 12 years.
“I’m chairman of the African-American committee of Dade Heritage Trust and that’s what we do. We celebrate the history of Miami,” she explained.
In addition to honoring women buried in the city cemetery at 1800 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Pinkney said the group holds an annual event to honor African-American incorporators of the city of Miami.
“We do the commemorative service every year where we have like an old-fashioned funeral march from St. Agnes Episcopal Church with a band to the city cemetery where we honor an African-American incorporator of the city of Miami and we put a headstone on his grave,” she said.
To refuse to be a part of efforts to preserve what many believe is a black cemetery would have contradicted her commitment to honoring many of Miami’s black pioneers, she said.
Besides, Pinkney said, the similarities between the two projects are unmistakable.
“This is a repeat of the Circle. Bob Carr was involved with the Circle,” Pinkney said of the archeologist who has been hired by the affordable-housing developer to determine whether additional remains exist on the site.
Since deciding to become involved, Pinkney said information about the site has been pouring forth. Two Hopkins maps of the area were slipped under her door a few weeks ago, she said, and 65 pages of names of people buried in the cemetery have been emailed to her via Arva Moore Parks, a local historian.
The G. M. Hopkins Company was founded by brothers Griffith M. and Henry W. Hopkins in Philadelphia in 1865.
While an Internet search revealed no records of the company creating maps in Florida, evidence that it produced more than 175 atlases of counties and cities in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania is available. In addition to depicting property owners, the Hopkins maps were also known to include churches, cemeteries, schools, roads and rivers.
“[Edwards] said that she came to Miami on Dec. 2, 1935, and she remembers Thomas, we used to call him Slim Bannister, took her on a tour of Miami and one of the places he took her was to the cemetery,” Pinkney said.
Bannister reportedly told Edwards that he had several members of his family buried in the cemetery and that members of several prominent African-American families were also buried there.
“She said that the Sharp family, who were pioneers of Lemon City, they had relatives buried there. And also the Ford family, Dr. Ford was an old-time doctor here in Miami,” Pinkney recalled.
Pinkney said the spirits of the people believed to be buried in the cemetery may be guiding the effort. She recalls the weekly rituals that Catherine Hummingbird, a Native American woman, conducted near The Miami Circle after Indian artifacts were discovered on the site where apartment buildings were being constructed.
“Her theory and philosophy was that the Indians were breaking through the asphalt that they had placed over their spirit. And their spirits were coming up out of the ground to let them know that they were here, that they are to be respected and recognized,” said Pinkney, who asserts that the same thing is happening with the black cemetery.
“These were some of the pioneers, the first people of Miami that everybody has forgotten,’’ Pinkey said “I think that their spirits are coming up and breaking through the asphalt to say that we were here and we should be respected and recognized.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Enid Pinkney, left, and Charles Flowers, right, are reviewing a list of more than 600 people believed to be buried at a forgotten cemetery for black people in Miami.