MacDill AFB to begin search for lost cemetery on its land

By PAUL GUZZO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: December 19, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Next month, MacDill Air Force Base will begin its search for the forgotten Port Tampa Cemetery.

The burial ground for African-Americans might still be on base land at the corner of Interbay Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue.

The Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center provides environmental, historic and cultural support and will work with Stone Mountain, Ga.-Georgia-based New South Associates that provides cultural resource management services, according a news release issued Thursday morning.

“If MacDill finds a cemetery, we want to make sure that we did right by those buried there, their families, and the community,” the release says.

In January, they will research its history by sifting through archives and interviewing people who might have memories of the burial site’s location, size and number of graves.

In February they will bring in dogs that can sniff out buried human remains.

“Once the surface reconnaissance and cadaver dog survey is complete, more intrusive surveying may be done to further investigate the area,” the news release reads. “Prior to this happening, the base will coordinate further with the community to decide what the appropriate next step will be.”

According to a report on Tampa cemeteries issued in 1941 by the federal Works Progress Administration, you reached the Port Tampa Cemetery by starting at the corner of Interbay Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue, heading south 884 feet, turning east and going 1,327 feet.

Following those directions puts the cemetery entrance on base property just past a fence on Manhattan Avenue. The property beyond is largely vacant, with just a few roads and trees.

The cemetery timeline and how many people may have been buried there remain unclear. The Times found three obituaries for African-Americans that list Port Tampa Cemetery as their final resting place.

African-Americans moved to the Port Tampa for jobs in the 1890s when it was its own city. But the jobs dried up once Port Tampa Bay opened to the east in the mid-1920s.

The city of Port Tampa was annexed by the city of Tampa in 1961.

MacDill’s search for the cemetery comes as the Tampa Bay area learns about other black burial grounds forgotten and developed over the years.

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