Just before the Civil War, three of every four inhabitants of this Florida county were human chattel owned by elite white families.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The rumors swirled for decades: A dark history long lay buried under the grassy knolls and manicured lawns of a country club in Florida’s capital city.
Over the years, neat rows of rectangular depressions along the 7th fairway deepened in the grass, outlining what would be confirmed this month as sunken graves of the slaves who lived and died on a plantation that once sprawled with cotton near the Florida Capitol.
The discovery of 40 graves — with perhaps dozens more yet to be found — has spawned discussion about how to honor those who lie in rest at the golf course. And it has brought renewed attention to the many thousands of unmarked and forgotten slave cemeteries across the Deep South that forever could be lost to development or indifference.
“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive,” said Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. His ancestors worked the fields of Leon County as slaves.
“They deserve much better than this,” said Hollinger, 26, who is leading a push to memorialize the rediscovered burial ground. “And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”
Wooden markers that had identified the graves have long since decayed. For years, golfers have unknowingly trod through the cemetery.
Leon County was the center of Florida’s plantation economy during the antebellum days and had the state’s highest concentration of slaves. Just before the Civil War, three of every four county inhabitants were human chattel owned by elite white families.
The Houstouns of Tallahassee was one such family. From the early 1800s through the Civil War, the family operated a 500-acre plantation. In modern times it has been parceled out to developers who transformed fields into an expanse of strip malls and residential neighborhoods, some sprouting stately homes.
A huge swath of the property became the Capital City Country Club, now an 18-hole golf course in one of Tallahassee’s most sought-after communities.
“It’s fair to say that the golf course is one of the reasons why this burial ground has been preserved as well as it has for so long,” said Jay Revell, the country club’s resident historian and the vice president of the region’s chamber of commerce.
“A hundred years ago when the golf course was constructed there was certainly no technology to decipher what was or wasn’t here,” he said during a recent visit to the country club.
There had long been talk among some Tallahassee old-timers about the long-gone plantation and its cemetery.