NAPLES, Fla — An abandoned African American cemetery at a busy intersection in Collier County is finally about to be properly memorialized.
Four unmarked pillars currently sit at the corner of Goodlette Frank Road and Pine Ridge Road in Naples. Right in front of the popular Goodlette Corners and South Street Bar, they signify the edge of a slave gravesite.
The NAACP Collier County said most people don't even know that slaves who helped shape our city and county are buried there. But they’re about to.
The Community Foundation of Collier County has made a $10,000 grant to properly mark and memorialize the site.
It’s something both organizations agree is long overdue.
“To know that that cemetery is there and we have little to no recognition of it is a tragedy, to be honest with you,” said NAACP Collier County President Vincent A. Keeys.
“Not only to our youth, but to the entire nation. Because it goes a long way to allow others to appreciate the contributions that we made,” Keeys added.
He said among those contributions are the Tamiami Trail and the railroad that the enslaved people buried at the site helped build. It's what put Naples on the map in the early 1900's.
“The railroad used to go down Goodlette. So these were slaves that actually worked to help build that railroad who are there, but there isn't any marker,” said President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County Eileen Connolly-Keesler.
“So the community foundation, you know, really sat back and looked at the history of what these people did to help build our community and felt it was really important that we get those graves marked appropriately,” Connolly-Keesler added.
Because so many African American cemeteries like it in Florida haven't been marked, they've been built over. That's why Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed HB 37 into law and created a task force to identify and memorialize them.
The historical marker that this grant will add, means the site will be registered as a historical landmark for people to visit.
The process of marking the cemetery at Goodlette Frank Road and Pine Ridge Road is underway now. There's no timeline yet on when it'll be completed.