On the 7th Fairway at This Florida Golf Course Lay the Graves of at Least 40 Slaves: ‘They Deserve Much Better Than This’
Bobby Caina Calvan, Associated Press / The Chicago Tribune, December 26, 2019
The rumors swirled for decades: A dark history long lay buried under the grassy knolls and manicured lawns of a country club in Florida’s capital city.
Over the years, neat rows of rectangular depressions along the 7th fairway deepened in the grass, outlining what would be confirmed this month as sunken graves of the slaves who lived and died on a plantation that once sprawled with cotton near the Florida Capitol.
The discovery of 40 graves — with perhaps dozens more yet to be found — has spawned discussion about how to honor those who lie in rest at the golf course. And it has brought renewed attention to the many thousands of unmarked and forgotten slave cemeteries across the Deep South that forever could be lost to development or indifference.
“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive,” said Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. His ancestors worked the fields of Leon County as slaves.
“They deserve much better than this,” said Hollinger, 26, who is leading a push to memorialize the rediscovered burial ground. “And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”
Wooden markers that had identified the graves have long since decayed. For years, golfers have unknowingly trod through the cemetery.
“It’s fair to say that the golf course is one of the reasons why this burial ground has been preserved as well as it has for so long,” said Jay Revell, the country club’s resident historian and the vice president of the region’s chamber of commerce.
“A hundred years ago when the golf course was constructed there was certainly no technology to decipher what was or wasn’t here,” he said during a recent visit to the country club.
There had long been talk among some Tallahassee old-timers about the long-gone plantation and its cemetery.
The stories piqued Hollinger’s curiosity. He dug into newspaper archives, where he found clippings dating back to the 1970s that mentioned the burial site.
He contacted city officials for help, who in turn reached out to experts, including the National Park Service.
That’s when Jeffrey Shanks, a park service archaeologist, took up the cause.
Earlier this month, after weeks of scanning 7,000 square meters of the golf course using ground-penetrating radar and two cadaver-sniffing dogs, Shanks issued his preliminary conclusion: The subsurface anomalies at the country club are indeed graves.
At the Capital City Country Club, there are no plans to exhume or disturb any of the rediscovered remains. But how the site will be memorialized is still up for discussion.