The fight to save an historic African-American cemetery in Gulfport has turned into a legal battle.

  • Two organizations want ownership of Lincoln Cemetery
  • Vanessa Gray has volunteered time to clean up the cemetery
  • St. Pete church believes its better suited to maintain it

Two organizations have expressed interest in taking over ownership of Lincoln Cemetery.

On Saturday, Pastor Clarence Williams with the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg announced his organization has hired an attorney to fight for property ownership of the cemetery.

For over a year, 23-year-old Vanessa Gray has been working to clean up the cemetery. She tracked down previous owners and was handed the deed for $10. She also created the non-profit, Lincoln Cemetery Society.

During the same time, Pastor Williams was also working to obtain ownership. He even secured $90,000 from part of Pinellas County’s BP oil spill settlement.

That money is now in limbo until a rightful owner is determined.

Pastor Williams’ attorney believes there were issues with the way the deed was handed over to Vanessa Gray.

Pastor Williams said he praises Gray for all of her hard work with the cemetery but believes his organization would be best telling the history behind it.

"The sacrifices they made, the lives they lived, the injustices they endured and their moral fabric helped our society become better," Williams said. "I think the connection with the community and the connection with those who are buried there is really the power in terms of trying to determine the best agency and best fit for who has control of that property."

Gray said she is willing to work with everyone but feels it is important to keep the cemetery in her organization’s name so they can continue the clean-up they started a year ago.

Gray said she’s also passionate about preserving the cemetery’s history.

She started a website to archive history and stories from the people buried at the cemetery.

The website includes information about Lincoln Cemetery like records, archives and an event calendar.

Gray says the society is working on several books, including one on the recent history of the cemetery.  

Gray said she also has an attorney but hopes to settle issues out of court.