Pompano Beach, Fla. – An appeals court hearing and proposed legislation by Democratic Florida Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. and House Democratic Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell are aimed at saving an historically African American cemetery in Pompano Beach from being sold.
The Westview Cemetery is the ﬁnal resting place of noted actress and “Good Times” star Esther Rolle, who died in 1998, and 400 other Pompano Beach residents and natives.
A lawsuit to stymie the sale was dismissed in Broward County Circuit Court and the case is scheduled to be heard in the Fourth District Court of Appeal this year.
The 4.5-acre land at 1900 N.W. 24th Street has been in disarray over the years, but Black activists have been ﬁghting to preserve the cemetery as an historic landmark.
Former Pompano Beach Commissioner Edward W. Phillips Jr. is leading efforts to block the sale after the cemetery association’s board of trustees voted in 2021 to sell the land to KZ Copans, a development company.
The company is planning to build industrial warehouses, a distribution center and a storage facility on the property. According to city records, the land is being offered for $1.29 million.
Phillips says the board of trustees did not follow their bylaws when the sale was authorized. He’s hoping the court will recognize that the plaintiffs have standing to determine the cemetery’s fate.
“It appears to be an uphill battle,” he said, “but I think, as an African American, I’m used to that.”
According to city records, Westview Cemetery was built in 1952 during segregation for Blacks who lived in Pompano Beach. A church formed the cemetery association.
Powell of West Palm Beach ﬁled a companion Senate bill to Driskell’s for the upcoming legislative session to stop the sale of the land. The bill proposes to create an historic cemeteries program within the division of Historical Resources of the Department of State, to maintain abandoned cemeteries and preserve them as historic landmarks or restore them.
“I’m really proud of the momentum that we built up on this issue and around the bill,” Driskell said. “We’ve even gotten national attention for the work we’re doing on Black cemeteries and are part of these national stories of how this happened not just in Florida, but around the country.”
Rep. Patricia H. Williams, a Pompano Beach Democrat whose grandparents on both sides of her family lie in Westview Cemetery, told reporters she’s aghast that the same scenario that has claimed countless Black cemeteries is happening in 2023.
“We never thought we would be in a ﬁght to save the land where we bury our loved ones,” she said.
Neither KZ Copans nor the cemetery board of directors could be reached for comment.