Their eyes were indeed watching God.

Remembering the victims of the Storm of ’28 – now honored Ancestors

I have such a deep personal history around this disaster. Not forgetting the stories told to me by my Mother who was a witness; and I never forgot. After many years away, In 1991,  using my radio voice on OUR COMMON GROUND I co-founded The Sankofa Society with Janice Jennings, a local Sister Attorney and Patrice Daniels, OCG Producer to  organize the community to remember, by organizing an African-centered consecration of the burial site and raising the names of our Ancestors buried there.

ABOUT THE 1991 CONSECRATION 

My thanks to Former WPB City Commissioner Robbie Littles, Robert Hazard, Patrice Daniels and many others who are now keeping this important history alive working to finalize the Remembrance Park. On September 16th, the community will come together for this year’s memorial.

sentinel-article

 

The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 62

Oct 21, 1991 –  Graham said she also plans to put together a housing committee that would …. Victims of 1928 hurricane in mass grave consecrated .-. … Janice Peak-Graham, Janice Jennings and Patrice Daniels were introduced as “the …

ABOUT the 2016 Memorial

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“To them, the Storm of ’28 will forever be remembered as Black Sunday, the night when death blew down Palm Beach County’s back door.

Landfall Even before the unnamed storm, packing 150 mph winds, slammed ashore in West Palm Beach, it had killed 1,500 in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

Within moments of making landfall on a Palm Beach County shoreline, its fierce winds left a trail of destruction from Pompano Beach to Jupiter. Sailboats were thrown from their moors, buildings in downtown West Palm Beach splintered and popped, choking Clematis Street with debris. The Episcopal Church on Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach was flattened, and in Boca Raton, railcars were blown off their tracks and a third of the buildings were demolished.”

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Funeral service for the Black victims of hurricane victims at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach (1928).

 

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Makeshift coffins stacked alongside the road between Belle Glade and Pahokee after the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. Black victims were loaded onto trucks and buried in a mass grave at the corner of 25th Street and Tamarind Ave. in West Palm Beach.  The site later became the site of the WPB city sewer system.  Spewing odor across the Black community and desecrating more than 674 Black ancestors.

SEPTEMBER 16th, 1928

Okeechobee Hurricane Kills Thousands of Black Farm Workers in Florida

On September 16, 1928, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour made landfall in Palm Beach County, Florida. The hurricane destroyed a levee that protected a number of small farming communities from the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Most of the residents of these low-lying communities were black migrant farm workers. When the levee was destroyed, water from Lake Okeechobee rushed into these communities, killing thousands.

After the hurricane, black survivors were forced to recover the bodies of those killed. The officials in charge of the recovery effort ordered that food would be provided only to those who worked and some who refused to work were shot. The bodies of white storm victims were buried in coffins in local cemeteries, but local officials refused to provide coffins or proper burials for black victims.

Instead, the bodies of many black victims were stacked in piles by the side of the roads doused in fuel oil, and burned. Authorities bulldozed the bodies of 674 black victims into a mass grave in West Palm Beach. The mass grave was not marked and the site was later sold for private industrial use; it later was used as a garbage dump, a slaughterhouse, and a sewage treatment plant. The city of West Palm Beach did not purchase the land until 2000. In 2008, on the 80th anniversary of the storm, a plaque and historical marker was erected at the mass grave site.

Downtown West Palm Beach Clematis Street following the storm.

HURRICANE OF 1928 MASS BURIAL SITE

Location:Corner of 25th St. and N. Tamarind Ave.
County: Palm Beach
City: West Palm Beach, FL
Description: Early residents of Glades had to survive many harsh elements. Their goal to create a thriving farming community was often tested by storms, insects, and the lack of many comforts. In 1928 the Glades area was devastated by a powerful hurricane that threatened to destroy the entire area. Several thousand residents were killed and hundreds of homes were destroyed. Despite the death and damage, those residents that survived continued to develop the area. The Glades eventually became a major agricultural community because of their desire and vision. This memorial honors those residents who lost their lives in the 1928 hurricane.
Sponsors: CITY OF PAHOKEE AND THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF STATE

 

Hurricane of 1928 African American Mass Grave:

West Palm Beach, Florida

[photo]
Hurricane of 1928 African American Mass Grave Site
Photo by Sherry Piland, courtesy of Florida Division of Historical Resources

The Hurricane of 1928 African American Mass Burial site is important as the burial site of approximately 674 victims, primarily African American agricultural workers, who were killed in the hurricane of 1928 that devastated South Florida–one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A major event for the African American community, it was the source for literary inspiration by noted author Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God; well known educator Mary McLeod Bethune, along with 3,000 other mourners attended the memorial service at the mass grave.

The bodies brought to West Palm Beach, Florida, were delivered to two cemeteries: 69 bodies were buried in a mass grave intended for white victims at Woodlawn Cemetery, and an additional 674 victims were buried in a mass grave intended for black victims in the City’s pauper cemetery at 25th Street and Tamarind Avenue. The mass grave was never marked. In December 2000, responding to public interest, the City of West Palm Beach reacquired the property of the burial ground from the last owner, and plans to memorialize this site in the history of the community are underway.

 

IMPORTANT LINKS for more Information

When the Dam Breaks…

Florida Frontiers “The Hurricane of 1928”

 

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