JROTC students restore historic black cemetery in Sarasota, honor fallen veterans

Honoring Black Vets

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After a few years of working to restore a historical local cemetery, the Booker High School JROTC students and other prominent figures in the city of Sarasota returned to the site on Wednesday for a ceremony to remember fallen black veterans.

Woodlawn is the first black cemetery in the Sarasota area and the JROTC students first began to restore the luster of this historic site in 2017, developing a personal connection as they uncovered and restored tombstones of former men and women who served in the Armed Forces.

Former City of Sarasota mayor and current city commissioner Willie Shaw says that he has many relatives buried in this cemetery with a linage of burials that began at the site over a century ago. He believes one of the ways the community can bring more exposure to the cemetery is to visit it more often and to find out if they, too, have relatives interred there.

“There’s no more tranquil spot in all of Sarasota,” Shaw said. “For a place of serenity covered by beautiful oaks and laurels, it is a fantastic piece.”

Shaw is not the only one with family members buried there. Dr. Rachel Shelly, principal of Booker High School, learned from him just minutes before the ceremony began that her grandfather is buried in that cemetery.

“I just asked if she knew the story of her grandfather and I started telling her,” Shaw said. “When I started telling the story to her it was moving moment for her because she didn’t know that much of the story.”

The restoration project has turned into a history lesson for these JROTC students.

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