County Native Takes Renovation of Pine Hill Cemetery: “History is Being Hidden” | Local News
Pine Hill Cemetery is not hard to miss.
Surrounded by the 22-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery near the corner of Hill Street and Line Avenue in southern Inverness, the 1.8-acre burial place of 322 known people has tried to remain noticed throughout its 131 years of existence.
â€œYou wouldn’t even know Pine Hill was there unless you have family there,â€ Dr. Devonte White said. “It’s history, but I feel like the story is hidden in the back.”
White can’t say how many of his own parents are buried in Citrus County’s oldest African-American cemetery alongside other long-standing surnames he grew up with.
â€œThere are a lot of them,â€ he said. â€œWe know everyone here. “
As far back as the 29-year-old Hernando native can remember, White has seen a number of county residents and organizations preserve Pine Hill as best they can weed, mow and tidy the Spanish moss and fallen pine needles.
White stepped in to pick up trash and straighten graves with others before and after leaving his birthplace in 2010 as a graduate of Citrus High School to earn his doctorate and teach criminal justice at the University. Bethune-Cookman of Daytona Beach.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that White noticed that more was needed for the county-owned cemetery and its “stark difference” from Oak Ridge cemetery owned by Inverness across the back streets bordering Pine. Hill.
“I wanted to know why we have two cemeteries on the same land but which look totally different,” he said. â€œIt’s not a big cemetery. Why is it not maintained as well as the huge cemetery there?
White is no stranger to popular action. He led the 2020 renovation of the Alexander Park basketball court in Hernando.
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Now he’s on a new assignment to help garner attention, funding, and the movement to “beautify” Pine Hill, and he’s already reached out to county officials for support and advice.
County administrator Randy Oliver said county staff, who mow and maintain the Pine Hill grounds, would be willing to partner with White as they were before.
â€œHe did a phenomenal job with the basketball court,â€ said Oliver. “If he can do the same sort of thing, I think it would be a positive thing for the community.”
White doesn’t want to be the only one suggesting improvements. He would like to organize town halls with community leaders and elders who know what is best for Pine Hill.
â€œThey’ve earned the right to say, ‘Hey, this is what we should have,’ because they’ve been doing this longer than I’ve been alive,â€ he said. â€œI want to give a voice to the voiceless. “
White said he wanted to focus on planting better grass, paving the only dirt road through the graveyard, and installing larger and additional signage to help direct lost motorists to Pine Hill. .
â€œA lot of times people just pass this thing without even knowing it,â€ he said.
According to Chronicle articles citing the Citrus County Historical Society, a land permit for Oak Ridge was granted in 1889 to Alfred Tompkins, the founder of Inverness, attributing it specifically to the burial of whites only.
Shortly after its creation in 1890, Pine Hill Cemetery became the resting place of the destitute and blacks. It doesn’t matter who is buried at Pine Hill, White said, they deserve the same respect as those buried next door.
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â€œThere is no doubt that one cemetery is different from another,â€ he said, â€œand it has been going on for quite a long time until the voices of Pine Hill fell on deaf ears. a deaf oneâ€¦ so I want to be that spark. “
The inscriptions on many of Pine Hill’s gravestones – a few simple limestone markers – have disappeared. White said he would like to work with the county historical society to identify the anonymous graves.
FR Kiye, who died in April 1919, has the oldest known grave. Other last names in Pine Hill include: Bellamy, Ross, Thomas, Smith, Chester, Gibbs, and Goolsby Jackson.
Samuel White, White’s grandfather and the first Citrus County African-American to serve in the United States Marine Corps, was buried next to White’s grandmother, Blonese. Charlie White, White’s uncle and the first baby born at Citrus Memorial Hospital, was also buried nearby.
Antonio Hicks, the 16-year-old Citrus High School student-athlete who collapsed during football practice in late September, has been laid to rest in Pine Hill Cemetery.
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For many years until the 1980s, Eli White of East Dampier Street Funeral Home supervised Pine Hill.
Inverness offered to take it back after the city was granted the title of Oak Ridge Cemetery in 1981; however, the local black churches took the responsibility instead.
After the teens used Pine Hill as a hangout, the Citrus Garden Club adopted the cemetery in October 2001, where they have since held volunteer cleanups four times a year.
“The club quickly recognized the need for loving care,” said First Vice President Lesly Smith.
Smith said the first cleanup in November 2001 filled 28 large garbage bags full of paper, bottles and other trash.
â€œIt’s in our mission to beautify,â€ she said, adding that the public was welcome to join the garden club for their next cleanup on November 10.
Members of the club, along with the VFW, also plant flags at graves at Pine Hill ahead of Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
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Downed tree branches littered Pine Hill in September, Smith said, but the cemetery’s appearance has improved since then.
“It looks pretty good,” she said, suggesting White’s recent appearances may have already boosted results.
Pine Hill, White said, is too important to ignore.
â€œThis is the story, this is the story, and you can’t hide your story,â€ he said. “It’s historic to me, and something needs to be done.”