City of Webster halts development rezoning to find lost African American cemetery

WEBSTER, Fla. — Experts say there are thousands of forgotten African American cemeteries throughout the state of Florida.

Members of the Sumter County Preservation Society say they have been discovering many of them in their backyard. One lost cemetery in particular has the whole town of Webster paying attention.

What You Need To Know

  •  Experts say thousands of African American cemeteries have been forgotten across the state of Florida
  •  The Sumter County Preservation Society has identified a possible location of one in the city of Webster
  • The City Council recently voted  to deny rezoning for a development in an area where the Webster cemetery may be located

Webster’s retired postmaster, Judie Mueller, is still very involved in her town, and when she’s not catching up with residents, she’s volunteering at the Sumter County Preservation Society.

“A lot of it is friendly conversations and then sometimes it’s what’s going on in town,” said Mueller. 

Now the residents in the city of Webster are talking. Like many communities in Sumter County, development is a hot button issue there.

“We had a developer that was trying to come in an develop 1,245 homes,” said Mueller. “Right now Webster only has about 300 homes.”

But she told Spectrum News 13 that the issue wasn’t just with the development — she believes there is also a lost African American Cemetery located on the proposed property.

It’s called the Webster African American Cemetery, and nearly 200 people buried there. Thursday’s five-hour City Council meeting brought the whole town to City Hall as council members voted on whether or not Webster would rezone the property for a potential developer to buy.

In the end, they voted against rezoning the area 3-2.

Now, Mueller said it’s go time that she and the rest of the Sumter County Preservation Society find the lost cemetery and preserve it.

“There was a sense of awe in the room because a lot of people didn’t know that there was a cemetery out there,” she said. “And that many of the African American cemeteries still need to be located in Florida.”

The next step is to locate the burial grounds. Once that happens, the group will need to clean-up site and begin preservation efforts. 

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