Black residents try to block sale of land at historic cemetery in Pompano Beach

Westview Cemetery in Pompano Beach may not be picturesque, with its minimal landscaping and crumbling headstones.

But it’s important to the family members of those buried there — its future should not be for sale.

That’s the argument of a handful of city residents fighting the sale of four and a half acres of unused cemetery land, hoping to preserve the site’s availability for the Black community for at least another generation.

Pompano residents like Kevin Eason, 61, revere the ground, on Copans Road east of Powerline Road, where 400 city residents have been laid to rest since 1952. The most prominent name among the headstones is Esther Rolle, a Pompano native who gained fame in the 1970s and 80s as the matriarch Florida Evans on the TV series “Good Times.”

“Esther Rolle could afford to be buried anywhere she wanted,” said Eason, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit trying to stop the sale of the 4.5 acres. “That was her desire. It has a sentimental value to the people who live here. I, too, have every intention of being buried there.”

Decades ago, Eason’s grandfather bought 13 plots at the site. His grandparents are buried there. His uncles. His cousins.

Westview was founded in 1952, at a time when Blacks could not be buried on the same grounds as whites. Local businessman Paul Hunter donated 14.5 acres to local black churches. In turn, the churches established a non-profit organization, the Westview Cemetery Community Association, to ensure that Black residents seeking an affordable burial site would not be turned away.

Race is not a qualification to be buried at Westview, though the property’s use has been mostly consistent with its original intent. If the sale is approved, little land will be left for future burials.

Eason said his own family members could also afford to be buried elsewhere, but there are others who cannot. For them, a $1,000 plot is a manageable final expense.

The board of Westview opted to sell the 4.5 acres for $1.29 million last year to a development company called KZ Copans, which according to court papers intends to “transform the vacant land into a multi-use industrial area that will bring jobs and resources to the Pompano Beach community.”

Westview expects to use the proceeds of the sale to complete long-needed repairs on the property.

The sale still needs formal city approvals before it becomes a done deal.

Efforts to reach attorneys for KZ Copans were unsuccessful, and the lawyer for Westview declined to comment because he had just joined the case. Westview chairman Walter Hunter did not return a call seeking comment.

Johnny McCray, attorney for Eason and two other Pompano Beach residents who feel betrayed by the sale, said the Westview board failed to follow its own decision-making policies by approving the sale with only four trustees participating when a minimum of five are required by their association’s bylaws. McCray also said the trustees don’t have the right to sell the land.

In his lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the sale, McCray raised the possibility that the 4.5 acre parcel may contain bodies that have been misplaced in the decades since the cemetery opened.

“Many of the remains over the years cannot be located,” McCray wrote. “Westview management has been abysmal in record keeping over the years.”

McCray’s lawsuit was filed last month, with the KZ Copans response filed last Tuesday. No hearing dates have been set.

The attorneys for Copans argue in their response that Eason and the other plaintiffs lack the legal standing to block the sale, though McCray argued that they are “members” of the cemetery association by virtue of being Black Pompano Beach residents.