NewsLocal News


MacDill hosts memorial service to honor hidden African American graves

Posted at 3:46 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 17:19:24-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The MacDill Air force base, local leaders and family members held a memorial service for the 126 African Americans buried there. It's one of the many hidden African American cemeteries across the Tampa Bay area.

"This is not easy," said Tampa NAACP President Yvette Lewis.

Lewis told the crowd she was full of emotions, "hurt, hatred and thankfulness."

Archaeologists made the discovery last year. They used cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar.

They did not dig the graves up, instead, they used old records and paperwork to confirm there are 126 graves in a wooded area at MacDill.

Local judge Lisa Campbell attended Tuesday's ceremony. She said it was personal for her.

"I want to address you as the daughter of a woman Retha Williams, and a man named Patrick Henry Williams. Their first child was buried out here," said Campbell.

The baby was stillborn. Campbell said she was happy when she received the call letting her know her grandparent's son is one of the people buried in the cemetery.

"It has helped our family to address and understand how this could happen," she said.

There are dozens of hidden cemeteries across Tampa Bay. Campbell said it happened to those cemeteries because they were powerless.

"Had they not been Black, had they not been marginalized, we probably wouldn't even be standing here today," she said.

Lewis, Campbell and others believe this a direct reflection of the mistreatment and disrespect Black Americans faced and are still facing today. Despite it being 156 years since slavery ended, and 57 years since the Civil Rights Act.

"How long are we going to continue to go through this?" asked Lewis.

She thanked MacDill for having a ceremony but said more needs to be done. She is calling on local, state and federal leaders to "make this right."

"We didn't deserve the way we were treated," Lewis said. "It's really sad because this city is a city that just hosted the Super Bowl. The city prides itself with diversity, yet they still have not acknowledged, or even said anything."