MIAMI — the remains of some of Miami’s Black pioneers have finally been laid to rest – again. Three years after a developer made a discovery that would change their construction plans, a gathering of about 75, including relatives of the deceased, politicians, community activists, residents and friends turned out on the lawns of Village Carver, 485 N.W. 71st St., on Friday to re-inter some human bones originally buried in the historic Lemon City Cemetery.
This time, Enid Pinkney, chairwoman of the Lemon City Cemetery Community Corporation, is confident they’ll be able to rest in peace forever.
“What can I say, how can I express the exuberance that comes today after working since 2009 to try and resolve this whole problem?” Pinkney said. “To be able to put those bones back in the ground is a joy.”
The occasion was made more special for Pinkney because of her personal connection to the event. After she undertook the project, she found out her grandfather was buried in the cemetery.
“Seeing my grandfather’s name and my grandmother’s name in print as his spouse, I was just flabbergasted. Before that, I didn’t know where he was buried. I think this was divine intervention and so I’m very happy that we’ve been able to do this,” Pinkney said.
Joyfully opening with singing of the hymn It Is Well with My Soul, the service included scripture readings, a commendation reading and consecration of the grave, a committal, a benediction and the unveiling of a historical marker.
Respect for history
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said he was proud to be a leader in a city where people could collaborate to celebrate history.
“What we’re seeing here today is a day of respect for history. It shows that private industry, residents and government can work together to offer dignity to the people who were founders of the city of Miami,” Regalado said.
Lorraine Clarke echoed his remarks. The 83-year-old elder with a cousin buried at the cemetery helped Pinkney and her team piece together the mystery of the bones.
“I feel very good about today. They came to my house and asked some questions and I told them what I remembered. I’m happy that now my cousin can have a place of rest,” Clarke said.
The service was officiated by Range Funeral Home. Owner and funeral director Patrick Range Sr. and his son, Patrick II said they were honored to be entrusted with the task.
“I think it’s quite an honor to be a part of the re-consecration of this land in memory of those who fought and worked in the city of Miami many years ago and its incredible that all of the agencies have come together to do this in a very honorable way,” the elder Range said.
“We’re certainly grateful to be a part this experience and hopeful its will be an example for years to come on how things should be properly done in situations like this,” added the son. "We also hope this would be a learning experience so that something like this would not happen again and the lands where our ancestors were buried will be preserved and remembered as hallowed ground.”
Lemon City Cemetery was the final resting place for some of Miami’s pioneer black families.
They include one World War I veteran, one of the men who signed the charter to incorporate the city of Miami and many Bahamian, Jamaican and other immigrants who planted roots and called Miami home.
The cemetery passed into obscurity over the years and was re-discovered in April 2009 when workers from Carlisle Development and Biscayne Housing Group found human remains at a construction site for a low-cost housing project.
A resident, convinced that the bones belonged to black people in unmarked graves, called Pinkney, a noted preservationist, to ask for help in preserving the site.
After months of research, a lead from 101-year-old Teresita DeVeaux and some help from genealogist Larry Wiggins, Pinkney and her team came up with 523 names of people buried in the cemetery, evidence that was instrumental in the site’s receiving historical designation on Nov. 3, 2009.
Last year, Carlisle and Biscayne Housing kept a promise and spent more than $1 million to create a monument and garden that ensured the 523 black settlers laid to rest a century ago would never be lost to history again. Officials from the two companies were present for the re-interment service.
Attendees also included Rhoda Jackson, consul-general of the Bahamas, and Miami Dade County District 3 Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
“There’s a very close tie between Bahamas and Miami so when I was asked to make remarks today, I thought of the words ‘love’ and ‘legacy.’ Being here today is a demonstration of the love and legacy (our ancestors) left behind for us and it should make us think of the legacy we want to leave behind. This is a true testament of God’s goodness to us,” Jackson said.
*Pictured above is Enid Pinkney, chairwoman of the Lemon City Cemetery Community Corporation.