There may be unmarked graves at MacDill Air Force Base, historians say

Crews at MacDill Air Force Base will begin the process of searching for a forgotten African-American cemetery.

The search began after a member of the Hillsborough School District's Historical Response committee said there would be new cemeteries discovered in Tampa.

"I understand he has found something in the Port Tampa area that will be coming forth," said Hillsborough Commission Chair Les Miller.

MacDill spokespeople say there's a reason to believe that in a wooded area of the base's northwest corner, there could be an African-American cemetery.

"We are going to go above and beyond to make sure that we honor the people that are buried there," said MacDill spokesperson Lt. Brandon Hanner.

In August, Tampa cemetery historian Ray Reed led the Housing Authority to use ground-penetrating radar to locate 126 African-American graves at Robles Park

Earlier this month, the school district found 145 at King High School.

"There are thousands of people still underfoot that we opened a cemetery, buried in a cemetery," said Reed, "and erased, all in the 20th Century."

Historians say it would make sense for MacDill to be on top of a black cemetery. The base was built in the 1930s, as segregation flourished in Florida. 

"There was still a vibrant, thriving African-American community in Port Tampa through the 1960s even," said Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center.

At Wednesday's meeting, Miller tasked the superintendent with carrying forward the message.

"Your responsibility is to educate those young people out there what happened and why this happened. Even if it hurts as to why it happened to African American communities back in that particular point in time."