University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Graduating student wins national prize for research into local Black cemetery and unmarked graves

Lincoln Cemetery

Lincoln Cemetery, opened in 1926, was the primary cemetery for African Americans in St. Petersburg, Fla. during the segregation and civil rights era of the 20th century. [Photo by the Lincoln Cemetery Society.]

By Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

A USF student’s research on unmarked graves at Lincoln Cemetery, a historical Black cemetery in St. Petersburg, was awarded the Florida Historical Society’s prize for best undergraduate paper on Florida history.

By examining historical death records from local funeral homes, Delaney Roque, who is graduating this semester with a perfect 4.0 GPA, uncovered hundreds of individuals who are likely buried on the cemetery grounds in unmarked graves but not listed in the official burial index. Largely, these were people of lesser means who were omitted from record keeping, according to Roque’s research. 

Lincoln Cemetery opened in 1926 and was the primary cemetery for African Americans in St. Petersburg during the segregation and civil rights era of the 20th century. Veterans from the U.S. Civil War as well as local civil rights leaders are also buried there.

Since conducting this research, Roque has spearheaded conversations with local community members and anthropologists regarding the status of unmarked graves in the hope of designating a city-wide landmark for the cemetery.

“I am hoping through this work that greater attention and more dedicated resources will be given to Lincoln Cemetery and eventually some kind of historical designation,” Roque said.

Delaney Roque

Delaney Roque won best undergraduate paper on Florida history from the Florida Historial Society and is graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

The paper covers a wealth of research and historical information about Lincoln Cemetery, from its opening shortly after the closing and condemnation of three other Black cemeteries in the city (Moffett, Evergreen and Oaklawn), to a period of neglect and deterioration due to a lack of government support and resources, to the present day where greater attention is focused on the remembrance and preservation of historical Black cemeteries. 

Unlike many other historical Black cemeteries across the nation that have been lost to history, abandoned and even paved over and developed on, Lincoln Cemetery exists today due to the continued support of the community, which resulted in coordinated clean-up efforts usually led by Black churches. 

“The local Black community was essential and took the initiative for the maintenance, upkeep and survival of this cemetery and it is remarkable that it is still standing today,” said Roque, who uses they/them pronouns.

Roque also highlighted in the research paper the need to continue examining community-based and local records to better understand all those who were buried in the cemetery. 

“There is a clear need for further analysis of local funeral home records around the cemetery’s general vicinity to have a full accounting of the peoples and histories of St. Petersburg’s Black community,” they said. 

The Florida Historical Society’s award for best undergraduate paper, named in honor of Caroline Mays Brevard, a longtime history professor at the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University), recognizes the most outstanding essay or research paper on Florida history produced by an undergraduate student at a college or university in the United States.  

Roque, who upon graduation will continue to work at Largo Public Library and plans to get a master’s in Library and Information Sciences, will receive the prize at the annual Florida Historical Society’s banquet on May 18. 

At the banquet, Roque will be recognized along with their research adviser Gary Mormino, USF St. Petersburg emeritus professor of History, who is receiving the Charlton Tebeau Award for the best general-interest book in Florida History, for his latest work “Dreams in the New Century.”

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