(WSVN) - The potential sale of part of a historic South Florida cemetery has some residents angry and taking action, and they have an unlikely ally. Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.
Number 23, Tyrone Carter, is a two-time world champion — winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Tyrone earned his gridiron grit as a star player at Blanche Ely High School.
Now retired, he is taking his fight from the football field to this cemetery’s empty field in his hometown of Pompano Beach.
Tyrone Carter, former NFL player: “I would never let nobody sell this place. See that whole section back there in the back? My great-grandfather bought all of that, so all of his family get buried right yonder. My mom is right over there.”
Westview Community Cemetery is also the final resting place of a famous actress.
Esther Rolle starred as Florida Evans in the 1970’s hit TV show “Good Times.”
A show that made history as one of television’s first sitcoms about an African American family.
Tyrone Carter: “She was a real role model. You gotta understand that.”
Westview first opened in 1952, when Blacks were not allowed to be buried alongside whites.
Now, the nonprofit that runs the cemetery is in negotiations to sell this empty 4.5 acres next to the existing burial grounds.
The buyer, a developer, is asking the city to rezone the land for industrial use.
Those against the sale voiced their outrage at a recent zoning board meeting.
Ed Phillips, former city commissioner: “Once this land is gone, there’s no more. That’s it.”
Dr. Ayanna Miller, resident: “How can I possibly trust that you will not pave over my family?”
Karen Hensel: “Residents argue this land was given to the community nearly seven decades ago — and the non-profit board for Westview Community Cemetery is simply supposed to manage it.”
Tyrone Carter: “This was given. If it was given…Why are you trying to sell it? Why are you trying to sell it?”
The crumbling cemetery has broken headstones, sinking burial vaults and unmarked graves.
Families turned to 7 Investigates in 2018 when some had trouble even finding loved ones.
Princess Daniels, family member: “You can’t put flowers down because you don’t know where your loved ones are at, that’s sad. That’s hurtful.”
Heidi Davis, an attorney for developer KZ Copans, declined our request for an interview but told the city the sale could be a solution to the decades of disrepair.
Heidi Davis: “The proceeds from the sale of the property will help the cemetery make improvements that are desperately needed.”
But residents fear the sale will leave less room for future burials and have turned to their own attorneys.
Johnny McCray, Jr., attorney: “The fight is about preserving history. We have to look at the intent of what we believe the donor gave it to the community. I think it violates that intent.”
Khambrel Davis, attorney: “That’s almost like taking away a bit of Black history in Pompano Beach.”
On Wednesday, they filed a complaint asking a judge to stop the sale.
Khambrel Davis: “You’re basically just trying to take Black peoples’ property. You know, you would think that they would just walk away from this and not want to go on, but here we are.”
Meanwhile, the state sent a letter warning the developer “historic cemeteries may contain burials outside the fenced or marked boundaries” and recommended the land be surveyed for unmarked burials.
Tyrone Carter: “I’m fighting for the Pompano community, which our ancestors, our family members are in this cemetery.”
We have repeatedly tried to talk with the attorney representing the cemetery’s board but have not heard back.
The next stop for these grave concerns could be a courtroom.
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