NewsHidden History Unearthed: Over 100 Graves Discovered at Air Force Base

Hidden History Unearthed: Over 100 Graves Discovered at Air Force Base

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 16: A Minneapolis Police officers unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under increased scrutiny by residents and elected officials after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 16: A Minneapolis Police officers unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under increased scrutiny by residents and elected officials after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Images source: © Getty Images | Stephen Maturen
11:14 AM EST, January 22, 2024, updated: 3:37 AM EST, January 23, 2024

In a striking discovery at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, officials have confirmed the identification of over 100 unmarked graves, believed to be part of a long-forgotten Black cemetery. This revelation highlights a significant aspect of local history and underscores ongoing efforts to acknowledge and rectify past injustices.

Unearthing the Past

Military officials have unearthed as many as 121 unmarked graves at a former Black cemetery in MacDill Air Force Base. The discovery was made following a non-intrusive archaeological survey utilizing ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs. This investigation, part of a broader initiative to preserve historic sites, sheds light on forgotten chapters of American history. The base officials are committed to expanding their search, ensuring no individual is overlooked in this historical reckoning​​​​​​.

Community Response and Memorialization

The rediscovery of the cemetery has elicited a range of responses from the community. Officials at MacDill have been praised for their thoroughness and sensitivity in handling this delicate matter. Lt. Laura Anderson, a spokesperson for the base, emphasized the importance of acknowledging this part of history and ensuring proper respect for those buried there. The base held a memorial service in 2021 and dedicated a site in memory of those laid to rest. Community leaders, including Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County branch, have also called for more efforts to memorialize the site appropriately and ensure its story is told accurately. Lewis also expressed the community's relief in locating these graves, which include ancestors of current community members​​​​.

Historical Context and Future Endeavors

The MacDill Air Force Base, established in the late 1930s, was built over what was once the Port Tampa Cemetery. This historic burial ground served as the final resting place for many African American families during the era of segregation. The headstones were removed during construction, but the graves remained untouched. The Tampa Bay History Center played a crucial role in bringing this issue to light, providing historical documentation and maps that aided in locating the cemetery. Looking forward, base officials plan to continue their research and surveys through 2024, hoping to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the cemetery's scope and further honor those interred​​​​.

This discovery at MacDill Air Force Base is a powerful reminder of the often-overlooked aspects of history, especially regarding African American heritage. It underscores the importance of historic preservation and the collective responsibility to honor and remember the past, no matter how long it has been buried.

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