02-19-2017  3:18 pm      •     

MIAMI (AP) -- When Enid Pinkney was a girl in the 1940s, her grandmother would tell her stories about a Black cemetery nestled in the northwest corner of Miami in an area once called Lemon City.
Pinkney never saw any headstones or tombs on the former farm land, which gradually became surrounded by small homes, car lots and industrial warehouses starting in the 1950s and 1960s.
But Pinkney's grandmother was apparently right. The bones of at least 11 people -- and possibly dozens more -- were recently discovered during construction of an affordable housing project. A local historian says the site was probably a cemetery for settlers from the Bahamas who came to South Florida in the early 1900s to tend to wealthy Whites and to help build Florida's most cosmopolitan city.
Now Pinkney, a 78-year-old activist and civic historian, is among those who want construction halted and the site designated as historic.
"Even though the people are dead, they are speaking to us,'' said Pinkney, who went before the city's Historic Preservation Board last week to discuss the discovery. "Their spirits are saying, we were here. We laid the foundation for this community and we are being disrespected.''
The scattered bones were first discovered in April. Someone called Pinkney about the find and she started to ask around in the Black community to see what people remembered.
Pinkney approached Teresita DeVeaux, a 100-year-old woman who was born in the Bahamas and came to Miami as a child. DeVeaux remembered that a young man named Theophilus Clark was buried there. Pinkney mentioned this detail to a reporter from The Miami Herald -- and when a story with Clark's name was published, a local historian named Larry Wiggins took note.
Wiggins said he plugged Clark's name into a genealogy Web site, and discovered that the man was buried in 1926 at a place called the Lemon City Cemetery.
There is no known cemetery in the area by that name, so Wiggins ran a genealogy records search using the keywords "Lemon City Cemetery.'' A total of 523 names came up, all of Black people, many from the Bahamas or infants of Bahamian settlers. The majority were buried between 1915 and 1925, right around the time when millionaires began developing Miami Beach.
But if this was a named cemetery, why wasn't it on any city maps? And why didn't anyone remember it or fight for preservation when the land was developed over the years?
"It's so mystifying,'' said Paul George, historian for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
He has an idea of what happened, however. It's likely that the former pastureland was owned by a private citizen and used as a Black cemetery. Because it served the poor and marginalized immigrants, the city never paid much attention. Then people forgot about it as a number of things changed the surroundings: Whites driving Blacks out of Lemon City in early decades of the century, the nearby placement of the I-95 highway, a rapidly changing ethnic makeup of the area, which is now heavily populated with Haitian immigrants.
"We've obliterated our history, especially for the unempowered,'' said George. "We don't have a great reverence for our past. Things are forgotten very quickly.''
Another unanswered question surrounds the status of the housing development on the property. The developer was going to build three towers for affordable and senior housing on the site. One of the towers is almost finished; work has stopped on the other two.
Patrick Range Jr., an attorney and spokesman for the developer, said the project is in limbo while more archaeological work is done.
"We're trying to come up with a solution that is both respectful and appropriate,'' said Range, who is the son of Athalie Range, one of Miami's well-known Black leaders.
Range said that the developer has finished an extensive radar scan of the property; he said there are a few areas where there are definitely objects underground. The developer will hire archaeologists to hand-dig those areas in the coming weeks to find out what's in the soil.
"We certainly do intend to bring the project to fruition,'' he said. "What it will look like at the end stage, I don't think we're ready to say.''
But Pinkney and other Black community leaders insist that the people that lay under the ground be remembered. City officials have speculated that there may be little they can do in the way of historic designation because there are no historic structures on the site and that no one of historical note is buried there. State rules say that construction on former cemeteries is acceptable if remains are appropriately moved.
In the meantime, Miami's Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously last week to approve "in principle'' that at least part of the property be kept undeveloped as a memorial park. But the resolution is not binding by law.
"These are the people who helped to make Miami what it is. They laid the foundation for what we have. They were pioneers,'' said Pinkney. "This is so typical of what happens to Black people. It's like you get eliminated, discounted, disrespected and when something like this happens, it's almost like it's your fault that the city doesn't have a map to prove you existed.''

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All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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