Unmarked graves discovered under Florida military base

by Rick Roberts
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In 2013 the Black Lives Matter movement began and it continues to this day. The movement is both political and social and seeks to highlight the ongoing racism fueling police and other acts of violence against the black community. The movement has been ongoing since 2013 but saw a huge uptick in popularity following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. This is a dark part of the American and worldwide society today and is something that people are only slowly facing up to the reality of. Yet the movement is clearly based in history too as for many years the racism that black people have been subjected to has been beyond cruel. A recent discovery shows further evidence of how badly black communities were discriminated against. 

The MacDill Air Force Base was opened in Tampa Bay Florida in 1941. It was opened at a time of recession in America and a particularly bad time economically for the Florida area. The cigar industry which Tampa relied on at the time was in turmoil and it was felt that a new military base could lift the area economically. This is why the military base was built but it is the site that was chosen that causes horror and disgust.

NAACP Hillsborough Country found numerous death certificates from before 1941. Each of the death certificates indicates the graveyard location and shows it as the same place that the base was built. The records indicate that at least 38 people were buried there and that 12 of them were stillborn infants. All of these people were black. There was no record of the bodies being moved.

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Anecdotal evidence supports the findings as many people remember the graveyard being destroyed to make way for the base. While this would cause shock today it was a normal circumstance back then.  We must remember at this time that Jim Crow laws were in place which made racial segregation and discrimination legal. It took the rights of black people and didn’t allow them to own certain properties. Even a graveyard was not protected. 

Thus when a site was needed to build a new military base the fact that a black graveyard was there was not seen as an obstacle at all. As there is no record of the bodies being moved it suggests that no one even cared enough to relocate the bodies. They simply demolish the graveyard and built the base on top of the bodies.

If this isn’t bad enough, the Port Tampa Cemetery is only one of five black cemeteries found in the Tampa Bay area in the last 18 months. Another was found under a modern-day school, with 145 unmarked graves and further records revealing over 250 (mostly black) people were buried there.

The MacDill base announced plans to search for the cemetery last December and used the Air Force Engineering Center to aid in the search. It is incredible to think that this burial ground was removed from history and it makes you wonder what other atrocities have been committed that there is no record for. 

These acts of systemic racism show why problems still continue to this day. Too much damage has been done and while the history books and records try to sweep much of the truth under the carpet there can be no retribution until everything is uncovered and highlighted. The Black Lives Matter movement has done fantastic work to bring modern-day atrocities to the attention of the world. Yet more must be done. While it is great to see people taking a stand and asking for change, more change is required.

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