More search scheduled at Florida Air Force base where 121 possible Black cemetery sites were located

The United States Air Force is to broaden its search for grave sites at a former Black cemetery at a Florida post after identifying 121 prospective sites, according to a base official.

Lt. Laura Anderson informed news outlets this week that a nonintrusive archeological investigation conducted over the last two years at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa discovered 58 probable graves and 63 possible graves. The base also sent out search teams equipped with ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs.

Anderson stated that it intends to hunt for additional evidence of tombs in an area to the north of the main cemetery this year.

“That’s essentially so we can make sure that we’re not forgetting anybody,” she was quoted as saying by WFTS-TV.

The Tampa Bay History Center informed MacDill officials about the potential Black cemetery in 2019, and the base held a memorial service in 2021 to dedicate a memorial on-site to individuals buried there.

The Port Tampa Cemetery’s headstones were destroyed during the base’s construction in the late 1930s, but the bodies remained, according to the Tampa Bay Times in 2021. The area must remain free of vertical structures for airplane safety, hence it has not been developed.

Officials said they will continue to collaborate with the community to determine how best to document the location and give tribute to those buried there.

“We know obviously there was wrong done in the past, but we’re working together with our community members,” Anderson went on to say. “We want to make what was wrong right.”

Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County branch, told WFTS-TV that base authorities had gone “above and beyond” to address community members’ concerns. However, she would like to see more attempts to memorialize the site and ensure that its story is told accurately.

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