A crowd of attendees form around the historic marker as Connie Lee from the St. Peter St. Paul Community Council prepares to unveil it. (Serra Sowers/WUFT News)

St. Peter Cemetery in Archer designated as a Florida Heritage Site

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St. Peter Cemetery in Archer unveiled a state historic marker Saturday commemorating the sacred space as a Florida Heritage Site that will be preserved forever.

About 120 people from the St. Peter and Pinesville communities attended the dedication ceremony to celebrate the rich history of their families. Laughter and prayer filled the venue at St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church as community members told stories and celebrated the importance of preserving history.

“I never had in my mind I would see a day like today,” said Roneda Moss, 81, who has lived in St. Peter her entire life. “This community is a loving community, always have been.”

St. Peter Cemetery has been the final resting place for community members, including former slaves, since the 1840s. It is still an active cemetery where area residents hope to join their loved ones when they pass. 

Just 17 miles southwest of Gainesville, St. Peter is located between Newberry and Archer. 

The historically Black communities of St. Peter and Pinesville are home to five cemeteries: St. Peter, Pinesville, Shallow, St. Joseph and Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal. St. Peter is the first to receive state historic designation – a process that took two years. 

In designating St. Peter as a Florida Heritage Site, the Florida Public Archeology Network corrected historic documentation records from 2000 that misidentified the site as a white cemetery. Four other cemeteries in Alachua County were also updated to reflect their correct identification as historically Black cemeteries. 

Gerie Crawford, the St. Peter St. Paul Community Council chair, was one of the leaders of this project and coordinator of the unveiling. She proposed this project and has advocated for the preservation of St. Peter since 2020 with Michelle Rutledge, a member of the council.

“We honor our ancestors, we recognize the contribution they and their descendants made and continue to make,” said Rutledge. 

Jearl Miles-Clark takes a photo of her mother Eartha Hutchinson in front of the new historic plaque commemorating St. Peter Cemetery of Archer. (Serra Sowers/WUFT News)

County Commissioners Charles “Chuck” Chestnut and Marihelen Wheeler attended the ceremony remarking on the progress the event exemplifies. Other notable St. Peter natives included Jearl Miles-Clark, a three-time Olympic relay medalist, and her mother Eartha Hutchinson, and Derrick Robinson, a former MLB player. Former NFL players and St. Peter natives Michael Nattiel Jr. and Rickey Nattiel remembered times when the cemetery was known as “the graveyard.”

After public remarks in the church, community members crossed the street to witness the unveiling led by Connie Lee, an officer with the St. Peter St. Paul Community Council. She read the words engraved on the plaque, which include the names of historic landowning families. Among those recognized were the Nattiel, Rollins, Brown, Crawford, Moss, Spann, Neal, Michael, Miles and Hunt families and their descendants in attendance.

The ceremony ended with a blessing from Pastor Samuel Neal III from St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. Everyone surrounding the new plaque sang a cappella “Won’t It Be Grand” led by Deacon Laundry Rollins. 

Satori Days, the Alachua County community stabilization program manager, spoke inside St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church before visiting the graves of her friends. Days was born and raised in St. Peter, and her family has their own plot in the cemetery. She said she was excited about the recognition.

Memorabilia from St. Peter M.B. Church displayed on a table during the indoor portion of the dedication. (Serra Sowers/WUFT News)

“Finally, people see African American cemeteries for what they are,” Days said. “They’re an open history book.”

Alisha Hunt, a veteran and current financial aid awards coordinator at Santa Fe College, is a friend of Days. She is happy to know that with this recognition, St. Peter’s history will not be forgotten. 

“So much of our African American history dies with time because it isn’t documented,” she said. “This lets us know it will be in the history books of Alachua County that we have a cemetery, a Black cemetery, not a white cemetery. It’s part of history. I love it.”

Michelle Rutledge (left), Gerie Crawford (middle) and Gwyneth Thompson (right), place the veil on the historic marker prior to the ceremony. (Serra Sowers/WUFT News)

About Serra Sowers

Serra is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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