Air Force base commanders to research lost Black cemetery on its grounds

The main gate at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Officials at MacDill Air Force Base in the Tampa area have committed to researching a Black cemetery that they learned existed on the property before the military site was built in 1939.

Base leaders plan to partner with an archaeology firm and use cadaver dogs to help them in their search, Tampa, Fla., station WTSP reports. The work will start in 2020, MacDill spokesman Brandon Hanner told the news organization.

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“The initial plan is going to start in January where a company is going to … do some archival data,” Hanner said. “If they have to come out, they’ll come out for interviews with the community. Likely, they’ll do some data collection prior to coming down here to the actual site.”

The cadaver dogs will be introduced to the site in February to help narrow down the burial location. Research by WTSP turned up dozens of death certificates and newspaper articles showing that the cemetery existed as early as 1902. The cemetery existed at a time when segregation dictated that blacks and whites must be buried separately.

Once the dogs have done their jobs, the base will bring in the community to help determine next steps.

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“Potentially, it could be a little bit more intrusive than data research and the ground survey with the cadaver dogs,” Hanner said. “That why we want to reach out after that point to make sure that the community is on board with what we want to do … because at the end of the day, we want to do right by the community. And if there is a cemetery, we want to do right by those buried there and their families.”

The base has received notification from the Tampa Bay History Center about the general location of the cemetery, the statio reports.

The Air Force Civil Engineering Center, which has experience finding burial sites, will help with the research.

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