PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Boy Scouts cleaning out a crawlspace under the Boy Scout Building in Miraflores Park in June 2021 discovered human remains under the 87-year-old building, which led to the rediscovery of a forgotten African American and Creole cemetery.
Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves announced Tuesday that the city would conduct a burial ground study of Miraflores Park, with Reeves planning to appoint a community advisory group to assist the city in deciding the future commemoration of the park.
“These were people. They were part of a community. These people could be ancestors of current Pensacolians,” Reeves said. “There are stories to be told here, and I believe that the future of this park, how the study proceeds and how its story unfolds should be handled delicately and respectfully.”
The Boy Scout troop that discovered the remains reported the find to the Pensacola Police Department. It was determined the remains were more than 75 years old, so the investigation into their origins was turned over to the University of West Florida, the Florida State Historic Preservation Office, and the state archeologist.
More than 100 bone fragments were recovered from under the Boy Scout Building, and a skeletal analysis by UWF biological anthropologists determined the bones belonged to two individuals, likely a woman in her late 30s or early 40s and a man in his 40s.
Reeves said the ancestry of the individuals was hard to say for certain, but traits identified on the woman’s skeleton align with traits of African, Creole and European, but the other documentary evidence showed the area was used as an African American and Creole burial ground.
Pensacola Cultural Resources Coordinator Adrianne Walker said research of historical documents indicates the site of Miraflores Park was used as a burial ground between 1884 to 1887.
“We have a map that marks Miraflores Park, known as Havana Square, then as a graveyard,” Walker said. “And then in 1887, we have it being discussed in actual city meetings with City Council and Board of Public Works. So, we’re still keeping the research going, trying to find out as much as we can and try to maybe nail down how long it was used and when.”
Walker said during the 19th century, Pensacola was an extremely diverse place that was composed of a multicultural community that was not easily defined.
Walker said the fate of the cemetery also reflects the darker part of the South’s history as unmarked burial grounds for African American and Creole-descended people of color have been rediscovered in other Florida cities.
“This kind of goes back to how history has played out,” Walker said. “Those people were marginalized in the historic period. And then, eventually, somebody comes through and wants to build a building or they want to clean up a park. And so they do, and then it gets lost with time.”
Walker said the city hopes news of the study and the work of the community advisory group will bring people forward who have any family stories of a descendant being buried in the park.
“There may be some citizens who can come out and say ‘I remember when my grandmother or great-grandmother mentioned that park,’ so we might be able to gain a lot from the community if there’s any social memory of that space that didn’t get written down because it was about a marginalized community,” Walker said.
Walker said the city wants to use ground penetrating radar to determine the locations of other burials and the boundaries of the burial grounds.
The community advisory group will use feedback from the community and the results of the study to recommend ideas to interpret and commemorate the park, as well as the eventual reinterment of the two individual’s remains.
Reeves said he would name the members of that advisory group next week.
Once the state completed its initial investigation, it determined that it was the city’s jurisdiction to decide whether to move forward with further studies. Reeves said it wasn’t even a question if the city would move forward with a study.
“This is this is pretty clear,” Reeves said. “We’re a city that prides itself on its history, and in opportunities like this, we get a chance to learn from our past.”