TAMPA, Fla. – In a significant development, the U.S. Air Force is set to expand its search for grave sites within a former Black cemetery located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. This decision comes after the discovery of a staggering 121 potential sites, as confirmed by a base official. Lieutenant Laura Anderson, speaking to news stations, revealed that an extensive nonintrusive archaeological survey conducted over the past two years has identified 58 probable graves and 63 possible graves. Additionally, the base has deployed search teams equipped with ground penetrating radar and cadaver dogs to further investigate the area.
Looking ahead, Anderson stated that the Air Force plans to extend their search to the northern region of the main cemetery area this year, with the aim of uncovering any additional evidence of graves. She emphasized the importance of this endeavor, stating, “That’s essentially so we can make sure that we’re not forgetting anybody.” These efforts reflect a commitment to address historical oversights and honor the individuals laid to rest at the site.
The potential existence of the Black cemetery was brought to the attention of MacDill officials by the Tampa Bay History Center in 2019. Subsequently, in 2021, the base sponsored a memorial service to pay tribute to those buried there, culminating in the dedication of a memorial on the premises. The Tampa Bay Times reported in the same year that the headstones at the Port Tampa Cemetery had been removed during the construction of the base in the late 1930s. However, the bodies were left undisturbed, and the area has remained undeveloped due to the necessity of keeping it free from vertical structures for aircraft safety.
Officials have expressed their commitment to collaboratively work with the community to determine the most appropriate means of documenting the site and paying respect to those interred there. Anderson acknowledged the past wrongdoing, stating, “We know obviously there was wrong done in the past, but we’re working together with our community members. We want to make what was wrong right.” This approach has been acknowledged by Yvette Lewis, the president of the NAACP Hillsborough County branch, who commended base officials for going “above and beyond” to address community concerns. However, Lewis also stressed the need for additional efforts to memorialize the site and ensure an accurate recounting of its history.
In conclusion, the U.S. Air Force’s decision to expand its search for grave sites in the former Black cemetery at MacDill Air Force Base is a critical step towards rectifying historical injustices. The discovery of 121 potential sites underscores the magnitude of this undertaking. By employing various methods, including nonintrusive archaeological surveys and search teams equipped with state-of-the-art technology, the Air Force is demonstrating its commitment to ensuring that no individuals are forgotten. As the search expands, the base officials, in consultation with the community, will strive to document the site appropriately and pay homage to those laid to rest there.