Help Save the Lost Graves at Two of Florida’s Oldest African American Cemeteries - GoFundMe Campaign to Raise Money For Gravestones

Doretha Smith, Lisa Lewis, and Jessie Powell with the replacement gravestone.
Photo of the new gravestone with the old grave marker and Ms. Dodie and Lisa

Raising funds to replace lost grave markers at the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries is of utmost importance for the West Augustine Improvement Association as many grave markers are crumbling, getting a little weaker with every storm, and as they crumble another name is lost. We are also raising funds for cemetery upkeep, since the cemeteries are in dire need of help. 

You can find the Pinehurst & San Sebastian Cemeteries GoFundMe page here.

While more than 200 graves are either unmarked or about to lose their grave markers at two of the oldest African American cemeteries in Florida, the initial goal for this campaign is to raise funds for 50 granite gravestones to replace some of the grave markers that are either lost or in danger of degrading beyond recognition before the names are lost forever. 

When you enter the gates to the Pinehurst and San Sebastian cemeteries located in St. Augustine, Florida, you are greeted with a sense of historic importance that makes a lasting impression, but you are also left with a feeling of sadness for all those people whose names are no longer visible, almost as if their place in history has been erased. 

The remnants of segregation are still stark even after death in this community, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought the non-violent fight side by side with community leaders, locals, and students from the segregated schools. 

Unmarked graves make it difficult to determine exactly how old these cemeteries are, but the oldest known grave dates back to 1879. The cemeteries were officially established around 1884 "to be used for all colored denominations" according to the deeds. 

Many of the people buried here were born into slavery before being freed in the mid-1860s, and some headstones have a chain at the top to symbolize that the person had been born into slavery. A great number of the headstones also bear witness to the sacrifice of the many men of color joining the military to protect their country. 

Controversy over ownership left these cemeteries exposed to neglect and vandalism over the years, and the Pinehurst and San Sebastian Cemeteries have changed hands many times since being established. When the Pinehurst Cemetery Association dissipated decades ago, it was left up to various volunteer organizations to do the upkeep. Without ownership or any funds available, these organizations were limited in what they could do. 

Artemesia Holloway Jones Grave marker 2021

One of the grave markers that has been lost to time is that of Artemesia Holloway Jones. She was a well-known columnist of Versanoie's Corner for the St. Augustine Record. She was born in 1906 and buried at the San Sebastian Cemetery in 1999. Two years ago, when the organization hosted its first cemetery cleanup event, you could still make out Holloway Jones’ name although her grave marker had begun to crumble, but sadly it has now completely disintegrated. 

Artemesia Holloway Jones crumbled grave marker 2023
Artemesia Holloway Jones crumbled grave marker 2023

New sample gravestone at Pinehurst & San Sebastian cemeteries
New sample gravestone at Pinehurst & San Sebastian cemeteries

The goal is for each unmarked grave to receive an 8" x "18" wide x 4" deep granite gravestone installed by a local company.

Pinehurst & San Sebastian Cemeteries GoFundMe campaign

Go to the Granite Gravestones GoFundMe Campaign here. 

Any donation is greatly appreciated, no amount is too small. 

As an alternative to this GoFundMe campaign, there is also the option of sponsoring a grave through the Pinehurst & San Sebastian Sponsor-a-Grave campaign.