Local Citizens Join Together to Clean up Historic Cemetery

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Local Citizens Join Together to Clean up Historic Cemetery

Sun, 10/18/2020 - 13:55
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Drivers traveling east on Ft. Dade Avenue can easily overlook the beautiful tree-shaded Spring Hill African-American cemetery that sits off the road. However, if you stop to look, you’ll see a large assortment of graves, some dating back to the early 1900s. Unfortunately, the cemetery has been vandalized numerous times over the past decades. The vandalism has included garbage dumping, desecration of graves and bones removed and theft of an American flag and flag pole.   
Members of the Spring Hill African-American Cemetery Trust go to the cemetery several times a year to clean up the graveyard, but on Saturday, October 10, a group of concerned citizens joined them for several hours in this effort. 
Homer Lawson, a native of Hernando County and lifelong resident, has a number of relatives buried at the cemetery and is a regular volunteer with the Trust. He takes great pride in his heritage and is enthusiastic about preserving the final resting place of his forebears, especially since his deceased family members were some of the pioneers of Hernando County. 
 
When Lawson, Head Plant Operator at Explorer K-8 school, recently expressed concern to Christina Ottersbach, a teacher at the school, regarding how disheartened he gets when he sees fewer and fewer volunteers, she decided to surprise him by organizing some people to help.  Caprice Kamin, another teacher at the school, and Andrew MacGregor, an assistant principal at Explorer, along with others joined in the project. Gina Hall, president of the Trust and Viennessee Timmons Black, a longtime volunteer with the organization, both cousins of Lawson also came out to help. 
 
Although local African-Americans had been burying their friends and relatives there for more than fifty years, it wasn’t until 1956 that Ada Belle Lykes, owner of the property on which the cemetery sat, bequeathed the 3¼ acre tract to the Black community.  
 
Ms. Ottersbach’s interest goes beyond cleaning up the cemetery. The ESE (Exceptional Student Education) Inclusion teacher who works with kindergartners and first graders, is in the process of writing a book about the history of African-American families in Hernando County. She is passionate about her research and has spent hours going through genealogical documents and archives and interviewing local citizens. 
 
In referring to Lawson, she states, “When he shares information about his family's history, he lights up like no one has ever seen!”
 
Once her book is published, Ms. Ottersbach plans to donate part of the proceeds towards the maintenance of the cemetery and installation of security lights so that these sacred grounds are less likely to be vandalized. 
 

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