Report suggests possible graves from destroyed Black cemetery found at MacDill Air Force Base

TAMPA, Fla — A new report from New South Associates released to 10 Tampa Bay from the Hillsborough NAACP suggests the lost Port Tampa Cemetery, an African American burial ground from the early 20th century, is likely on MacDill Air Force Base property.

The cemetery was listed in the 1940-1942 Veteran’s Grave Registration, a Works Progress Administration initiative that was part of the Florida Department of Military Affairs. It listed the cemetery near the intersection of Interbay and Manhattan where MacDill is located today.

Upon learning about the possibility of a Black cemetery on base, MacDill officials immediately began an effort to search for the burial site. New South Associates began researching records, collecting oral histories and cadaver dogs were brought in to sniff out possible remains.

Crews searched several areas of the base; multiple anomalies were found that suggest they belong to the Port Tampa Cemetery.

A lifetime resident consulted for the report told 10 Tampa Bay earlier this year that the cemetery was an informal burial ground, and that only the poorest people were known to rest there. 

He said the water table in Port Tampa is high, which makes the area an unsuitable place for burials. This information was reflected in the report.

Death certificates and newspaper records show about 38 burials in the cemetery. Thirteen of those records were of stillborn children. Researchers say the stillborn babies would have been difficult to locate through ground-penetrating radar or cadaver dogs due to their size.

According to the NAACP, MacDill Air Force Base is commissioning a plaque to pay respect to those buried at the Port Tampa Cemetery.

MacDill has not yet returned any calls for comment.

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