More than a century-old African-American cemetery that has been neglected for years is finally getting much-needed care due to a local group working to preserve its place in history.

  • Safety Harbor African-American cemetery receiving help
  • Jacqueline Hayes and Lou Claudio work together to preserve cemetery
  • Non-profit to be created to help with maintenance and preservation

Paying respect at her grandmother's grave, Jacqueline Hayes reflects on the roots that connect her to Safety Harbor and this cemetery.

"My grandfather was the first African-American in Safety Harbor to work downtown. He helped build the Main Street road and St. Joseph's Hotel," Hayes said.

Hayes’s grandparents, Charlie and Amanda Smith, are both buried at the small cemetery in the middle of a subdivision. Some of the stones date back to the 1890's.

Jacqueline recently met Lou Claudio, who had tried restoring the overgrown and neglected space 20 years ago. His records show her grandfather’s name was on one of the first deeds.

"I'd learned that a lot of cemeteries, particularly African-American Cemeteries, are either up rooted or paved over. There's a sad history to that," said Claudio.

With help from the community, Hayes and Claudio started re-writing that history. They've formed the Safety Harbor African-American cemetery restoration project to preserve and protect those who’ve been laid to rest.

"Out of hundreds of possible grave sites, only a few of them are marked. Many have yet to be discovered," Hayes said.

"When someone died, they would put a tin marker and a piece of paper with their name on it. Then with the wind and weather it would just blow away," Claudio added.

"It's just important. It's an important part of our history," he said.

Though the cemetery was once forgotten, these newly-formed friends are making sure its legacy will last forever. The group is working to establish a non-profit for the cemetery to keep up with regular maintenance and historical preservation. They've made it their mission to shine new light on the stories behind the headstones.