Woodlawn Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale listed on National Register of Historic Places

Historic black cemetery was neglected, abused over years

By Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A final resting place in Fort Lauderdale is now set in state history.

During segregation, the Woodlawn Cemetery was one of a few sites at which African Americans were allowed to be buried in South Florida.

On Wednesday, the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- an honor that forever recognizes and protects the landmark. 

The cemetery was the first African American cemetery in Broward County and, for years, was one of the few places African Americans and the indigent could be buried. 

The buried there includes African American pioneers, such as Drs. Von D. Mizell and James Sistrunk, who helped build and shape Fort Lauderdale.

The cemetery has been neglected and even abused over the years. 

In 1995, the Department of Transportation built Interstate 95 on the west end of the cemetery and promises were not kept.

"Supposedly, they were going to move a lot of the gravesites. History has shown us that that has not happened. We still think there are bodies underneath Interstate 95," Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Robert McKinzie said. "It has been many years of overlooking this historic site and the history as to how we got here, many years of neglect."

Willie Ford, of American Legion Post 220, and other veterans came out Wednesday to honor a man they have never met but know as well as a family member. 

Their American Legion post is named after a heroic 17-year-old soldier named Robert Bethel, and they visit him at the cemetery. 

"He was a young man in Europe during the first World War and, as I understand, he died during a gas attack," Ford said. 

A wise man once said, "If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday" -- something Ford agrees with. 

"If you don't have history, you don't have anything," he said. 
 

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