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St. Petersburg church starting legal battle to pursue ownership of Lincoln Cemetery

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Greater Mount Zion AME Church is planning to launch a legal battle to take over the historically black Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, reports Waveney Ann Moore of the Tampa Bay Times.

The cemetery, situated at 608 58th St. S, is the final resting place for generations of black families, but its ownership over the past decade is isn’t quite clear.

The church, headed up by Rev. Clarence Williams, is challenging Vanessa Gray, a white woman who took over ownership of the property through a quit-claim deed. Gray has worked to clean up the property and has organized groups of volunteers to do the same.

“We do not believe that this particular piece of property should be in private hands…. We are striving for community ownership,” Williams said Saturday.

“We are going to be establishing an account where we can raise money to take care of this legal battle.”

The property was sold by now deceased Susan Alford to Sarlie McKinnon III of Georgia back in 2009, though according to the legal team representing the Alfords, McKinnon failed to follow through on claiming the cemetery property.

That led Richard Alford, the son of Susan, to sign over the property to Gray through a quit-claim deed.

“The quit-claim deed was requested to assist in clearing the title, but it doesn’t necessarily resolve the question of what would happen if Mr. McKinnon returned and asserted his ownership of the corporation, Lincoln Cemetery Inc.,” said lawyer Peter Rudy Wallace, the last Democrat to serve as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, in 1994-96.

According to the church’s lawyer, Tamara Felton-Howard, McKinnon has stepped in and signed “a document” on behalf of the congregation, though she would not specify whether it was a quit-claim deed. According to her, only McKinnon “has the authority to transfer this property.”

No matter who prevails, the owner will be on the hook for $32,000 in liens levied by the city of Gulfport.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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