Mayor Lenny Curry and two City Council members were at Pinehurst Cemetery on Friday to help Public Works crews start clearing trees and brush as part of a 5-year multi-million dollar plan to clean up and restore historical African-American cemeteries in Jacksonville.
Pinehurst, which is off of Moncrief Rd. on the Northside, is one of six historical African-American cemeteries that are set to be cleaned up and restored if the City Council approves the $10.8 million project. The other cemeteries are Hillside (Potter’s Field) Cemetery, Old City Cemetery, Sunset Cemetery, Memorial Cemetery, and Mt. Olive Cemetery.
Friday’s work was about prepping Pinehurst Cemetery for future work under the assumption that City Council would approve funding for the project. Pinehurst has more than 1,200 graves.
“These are cemeteries that have been the responsibility of the city for many years and they’ve long been neglected,” said a camo-clad and yellow vested Curry. “So we’re going to restore the dignity and respect that’s deserved.”
“As a resident of this community, I was afraid to come in here because of the brush that was in here,” said Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, another city official lending a helping hand on Friday. “It’s a lovely place. So why can’t we fix it up, maintain it, and let the family members have an opportunity to respect their love ones?”
“For so long this community has been neglected,” said Councilman At-Large Samuel Newby, who was also at Pinehurst on Friday. “But this administration and this council, we’re here to restore pride. And this is one of the first steps toward restoring pride in this neighborhood.”
Curry said the condition of these cemeteries didn’t come to his attention until the last budget cycle was already underway.
“When I and my team learned of the condition, the first reaction was ‘that’s terrible and disrespectful,’” Curry said. “The next thing was, ‘well OK. It is what it is right now. How do we fix this? What are we going to do? And how do we move on?’ So we decided to put it in the budget and get out here and start getting things ready.”
Public Works has already assessed Pinehurst and officials say it’ll take about $1.2 million to adequately restore the cemetery. The five other cemeteries that are part of the project have yet to be assessed.
“We’re here to bring attention to this today, but these folks in Public Works go out every day and do the hard work in the sun,” said Curry. “We’re grateful for them.”
Officials with Public Works say the the project is part of the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP. If approved, the total project funding of $10.8 million should come in during the first four years of CIP.
“We’ve got over a billion dollar budget and a budget is a statement of priorities,” said Curry. “We invest in kids through the Kids Hope Alliance. We invest in public safety. We invest in parks, sidewalks, infrastructure, homelessness. I mean we invest in a whole variety of services that you’d expect your government to invest in. But we’ve got to take care of this stuff. This is the city’s responsibility. And this is about honoring your responsibility for the dignity and respect of the people and the families here and in the neighborhood.”