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Students from 3 Booker schools clean gravesite of Emma E. Booker

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Emma E portraitEmma E Booker grave

HONORING HER LEGACY: Top photo-A portrait of pioneering educator Emma E. Booker is on display in a room at Booker High School dedicated to the history of the Booker schools and the Newtown community. Bottom photo-Students and staff from the Booker schools and other volunteers will travel to Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport Nov. 4 to beautify the gravesite of Emma E. Booker.

SARASOTA, Nov. 2, 2017 — Students and staff from Emma E. Booker Elementary, Booker Middle and Booker High schools will join forces for a community service field trip to honor their founder’s legacy by beautifying her final resting place. Pioneer educator Emma E. Booker, for whom all three schools are named, is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport. The cemetery was a primary burial place for African Americans in Pinellas County from the 1920s through desegregation. 

Students will travel by charter bus at 7 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 4 to trim foliage and pick up debris near Booker’s gravesite during Lincoln Cemetery Clean-Up Day, scheduled from 9 a.m. until noon. The cemetery was among the places damaged by Hurricane Irma in September. The public is encouraged to help. Volunteers are asked to wear closed-toe shoes or work boots, and to bring their own work gloves and lawn equipment, including rakes, trash bags, wagons/wheelbarrows and gas-powered weed eaters.

Sarasota lays claim to Emma E. Booker as the educational leader for children of color. Booker founded Sarasota’s first school for black students, Sarasota Grammar School, in 1910, but she is also listed in records from the City of St. Petersburg as one of Pinellas County’s pioneering educational leaders. Booker died in 1939, but her legacy — a dedication to quality education for every child — lives on through the lives of every student educated in the Booker schools from 1912 to the present.

Booker High School principal Rachel Shelley saw the need for a collaborative partnership during an impromptu visit to Booker’s gravesite in early October.

“My heart was broken when I went to visit Emma E. Booker’s gravesite,” said Shelley. “I decided to do something, but I knew I needed help to get it done.”

Shelley shared her thoughts with the principals of Emma E. Booker Elementary and Booker Middle schools — Edwina Oliver and LaShawn Frost, respectively. Shelley hopes the gravesite clean-up will be an annual community event.

“Our goal is to have as many people help with this effort as possible,” Shelley said. “I’m hopeful we can find donors for a new headstone, gravestone or tombstone for Emma E. Booker, as well as permanent maintenance equipment for the cemetery.”

Lincoln Cemetery was established in 1926 and relies on volunteer efforts for maintenance. Community members are committed to making the cemetery “a peaceful, serene, garden-like resting place where families can find their loves ones and pay respect for generations,” in accordance with the mission statement on LincolnCemeterySociety.org.

Lincoln Cemetery is located at 600 58th St. in Gulfport. For information on the field trip, call Booker High School at 941-355-2967. 

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