This past March, residents of Deerfield Beach rallied to urge city leaders not to approve a measure that would allow the building of condos on land that was once a blacks-only cemetery. They said human remains were still in the ground and building there would dishonor their memory. Despite the passionate pleas, the city voted on April 7 to approve landowner Rob Kassab's development project.
But over the weekend, an archaeologist surveying the area for the intended project found bones. Tests will be done to determine they they are human remains, but Theo Times, a funeral director who has been one of the most persistent voices against the development project, is convinced they are.
“I'm excited about the discovery - I'm hopeful that the truth will come out,” Times says. “And that the city, property owners, and everyone invested in the project will cooperate so that we can come to a happy medium, not only just for the families of the individuals that are buried in the cemetery, but for the city and the property owners, too.”
He adds: “Is that possible – I don't know. But that's what I'm hopeful for.”
The five-acre plot of land was home to what was once called the “Old Colored Cemetery,” and at least 34 people were buried there in shallow graves dating from the late 19th century. But Deerfield Beach historian Linda Lucas says the number could be as high as 300, going off historical death records available online.
Kassab, who has owned the land since 1986, insists that all bodies were respectfully moved to a nearby cemetery before he bought the land. But many longtime residents, some of whom have family in the area for several generations, say that's impossible and point to the fact that there are only 18 records of removals.
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For more backstory on the cemetery and the controversy surrounding it, see our March 31 story.
Despite the objections raised by city residents, the Deerfield Beach city council approved the condo just days after a meeting was held where the majority of residents in attendance disapproved of the project. Times says this was a blow to those who want to preserve the land for a memorial honoring those who were buried there – all of whom lived during the country's racist Jim Crow era.
“We were very disappointed when they approved this measure, but now I feel there's a sense of hope that we'll get a fair shake,” Times says.