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Booker High JROTC to Host Marker Placement Ceremony at Oaklands-Woodlawn Cemetery – February 19

by Rebecca Abrahamson, VPA Coordinator & AICE English General Paper Instructor at Booker High School

SARASOTA COUNTY, February 11, 2020 – Booker High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program will host a marker placement ceremony at the Oaklands-Woodlawn Cemetery for African-Americans (1037 Gillespie Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236) at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, February 19. The event will pay tribute to veterans and community members who are buried there.

The ceremony will feature a keynote address from City Commissioner Willie Shaw and music from Booker High’s Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) music department choirs. A marker will be placed in the cemetery, signifying the stewardship of the sacred ground by the Booker High School JROTC – a symbol of the fact that these lives and accomplishments have not been forgotten.

The event will be open to all who wish to pay their respects to those who have been lain to rest at Oaklands-Woodlawn Cemetery.

JROTC instructor Sgt. John Ledbetter says that this acknowledgement of African American contributions to the community is long overdue. He and partner JROTC instructor Capt. Jason Dudley feel it’s important to commemorate those for whom this cemetery is the final resting ground.

“Our black community deserves the recognitions of their military and community service to making this country a better place,” he said. “They’ve been slighted all this time.”

The ceremony signifies the end of phase 2 of the service project that was initiated by Ltc. Ben Weiss, former Senior ROTC Instructor at Booker High School. It has been two years in the making; since 2018, JROTC cadets have been cleaning and revitalizing the neglected cemetery, which opened in 1910 as the cemetery in Sarasota County established for the burial of African American residents.

Over the years, the cemetery, situated behind the IHOP on U.S. 301, had been overlooked, and the site had deteriorated prior to the JROTC program adopting it as a service project.

Ledbetter said that, while the event will be auspicious, he also hopes it instills in the younger generation lessons of the hard battles fought by their predecessors.

“This senior generation are the last eye witnesses to major systemic segregation and racism, and it’s important for the messengers of the future generation to carry on the spirit of the struggle and know what their ancestors fought so hard for,” he said.

Although the event signals the end of phase 2 of this service project, Ledbetter has set his sights on ongoing community awareness and recognition projects.

“We’re not done. This is a small activity that we will continue to do in the future to ensure that this amazing community is recognized,” he said.

Those with questions should contact Sgt. John Ledbetter, JROTC Instructor, or Capt. Jason Dudley, Senior Army Instructor, at (941) 355-2967.