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Searching for lost graves at MacDill won’t be easy

The base’s cultural resources department is currently allocating funding to support a search for the graves
Credit: Emerald Morrow

TAMPA, Fla. — After learning that a lost African American cemetery might be on property at MacDill Air Force Base, engineers started working on a plan to find missing graves. However, the search for these graves won’t be as easy as it was for two other lost African American cemeteries that were discovered over the last few months.

According to a 1940-1941 guide from the Department of Military Veterans, the forgotten Port Tampa Cemetery is located southeast of the intersection of Interbay and Manhattan in Tampa.

"It's an uninhabited area of the base, and it's a pretty woody area,” said 1st Lt. Brandon Hanner, spokesperson at MacDill. Hanner said this complicates the search, because tree roots could stand in the way of ground-penetrating radar.

“The biggest challenge would be finding out what would be the method, what’s the best way forward?” Hanner said.

The base’s cultural resources department is currently allocating funding to support a search for the graves. Hanner said engineers are working on a plan and should start work after the holidays.

“If there is a cemetery there, first and foremost, what we want to do as a base is to go above and beyond and make sure that the people there are honored. And once we do find out if there is or there is not a cemetery on base, we're going to make sure that the public knows about it,” said Hanner.

RELATED: Forgotten African American graves could be buried at MacDill Air Force Base

RELATED: 145 coffins found at King High School, part of an erased African American cemetery in Tampa

An 86-year-old woman who lived in the area recalled seeing an open grave with an infant girl around 1939, just as the government was beginning to take property for construction of the base. She said she and her family had gone beyond their property after a fire and made a startling discovery.

"It was in my mother's hands and she picked it up. I remember the little white dress. I knew it was a black baby. But then she told me it was a black cemetery, and I guess I assumed it was black but it looked dark. I don't think it had any shoes on, but it had a pretty little white dress on."

The woman did not want to be identified publicly but verified her identity with 10News. She expressed relief after learning from 10News that MacDill is moving forward with searching for the lost graves.

"I think it would be nice for the people that were buried there," she said.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com.

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