The Town of Oakland has been awarded Florida’s Historic Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000 to kick off its preservation and management plan for the Historic African American Cemetery. The Small Matching Grant from the Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources will become available July 1. The Town’s was the top-ranking project of the 58 recommended proposals statewide.
The cemetery, located at 16798 W. Colonial Drive, was established in 1882 with burials continuing through the 1940s. Oakland founder James Gamble Speer gave the original deed to three Black trustees in 1917. The property was later deeded to the Town of Oakland in 2014.
The cemetery is the resting place of emancipated persons and families who migrated to West Orange County. It contains archaeologically significant African American seashell and folk grave markers. Research surrounding the residents buried in the cemetery, including family genealogy, migration to Florida, participation in the citrus industry, and economic, spiritual and social life, are of great interest not only to Oakland’s residents, but also to the West Orange and regional Central Florida communities.
The site was saved from development in the area thanks to combined efforts by the Town and a group of descendants who rallied to raise awareness, clear underbrush, and conduct archaeological work.
The grant will assist the Town in planning for perpetual protection of this integral part of Oakland’s heritage with proper surveying and a long-term maintenance plan. The funding will also aid in addressing vegetative overgrowth, wayfinding signs, walking paths, identification of graves and protection of early monuments. The Town is now seeking a professional assessment of the property as the first steps in the process toward its long-term restoration.