“My grandfather’s smiling from heaven”: Tampa working to honor cemetery for black WWI soldiers

Published: 9 February 2024

By Jada Williams
via the WFTS Tampa Bay ABC Action News television station web site

WFTS Tampa Bay

“I am so excited and happy that the city is going to honor them, and respect them and do what’s right.”

TAMPA, Fla. (WFTS) — Memorial Park Cemetery means the world to Noreen Copeland- Miller.

“My grandfather was in World War I. He was Private 1329. I’ve been there so many times, I remembered that,” she said.

It’s also where her brother is buried, along with hundreds of other black soldiers.

“Our black soldiers could not be buried anywhere else where there’s white soldiers. So that’s why it’s over 900 soldiers in that cemetery,” she said. “I am so excited and happy that the city is going to honor them, and respect them and do what’s right. And just, it’s exciting. I have it from i know my grandfather’s smiling from heaven and my brother.”

Her excitement comes from plans to restore the existing historic marker.

Between the graves stands a tall brick markers. It reads: ” The Florida Negro World-War Veterans Memorial: Dedicated 1923″. Now the city has plans to clean up the marker and add other elements around it.

During Thursday’s City of Tampa Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, Councilman Luis Viera explained how the idea came about.

“We had a clean up last year and commissioner Josh Wostal and I were out there cleaning together and we talked about getting the county and city to restore this memorial,” he said.

Since December, city staff has worked to bring that idea to life.

“If you look at the history of it, 100 years ago, it was a big thing when it happened. That particular memorial for African-American soldiers who never returned from World War I. It really pays tribute to African-American valor and service. It’s so poignant after the world war, they came and returned home expecting to be treated like an American and when they came back, you had many many incidences of racial terror because they demanded to treated equally,” Councilman Viera said.

The cemetery became one of few cemeteries nationwide for black soldiers following World War I. It even pre-dates many of the wars the men and women buried there fought in.

In a joint effort with Hillsborough County, the estimated $15,000 project will bring beauty to the cemetery and pride to the loved ones still with us today.

Read the entire article on the WFTS web site.
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