TAMPA (WFLA) — One hundred and forty-five coffins were discovered under portions of King High School’s campus in Tampa, the Hillsborough County School District announced Wednesday.
During a meeting to discuss the findings, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller mentions the possibility of yet another forgotten cemetery at MacDill Air Force Base, in the once predominately African-American area known as Port Tampa.
Public Affairs Officer Terry Montross confirms that MacDill AFB is allocating resources to attempt to confirm if there is a forgotten cemetery on base property
A wooded area on the base will be the focus of the investigation
The school district began searching in October after a civilian pointed out that there may have been an African American graveyard near the school.
Yvette Lewis, President of the Hillsborough Branch NAACP is saddened and angry by the news.
“I am sick of this. This hurts. Deeply. That we can be thrown away and nobody tells our history. Nobody is telling these people’s history and these people’s story,” she said.
The first area that was scanned was on the southern edge of the campus, which is where technicians found clear evidence of burials. Ground-penetrating radar scans found approximately 145 coffins buried 3 to 5 feet below the surface.
“We’ve pieced together a bunch of documents and we kind of anticipated that it would come back this way, but I really didn’t anticipate getting a report back this morning that said it was 145 coffins,” said Tamara Shamburger, school board member.
While the radar cannot confirm what exactly is underneath the surface, the pattern of the findings matches historical records of a one-acre cemetery on the site, the Hillsborough Public School said.
Research shows there could be 268 people buried in the area, but so far they’ve found 145 coffins. Others could have decayed or been moved.
“We want to make sure that the folks that are buried at this site are honored. That’s just really from a school district perspective.. we wanna make sure we find out more about these people,” said Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
The District said “historical records vary, but they show between 250 and 268 burials at Ridgewood Cemetery. Our cans show evidence of approximately 145 burials. Every record we have found indicates all the burials were done in the same small area – taking up about one acre.There are some possible reasons for the discrepancy of numbers.
- Many of the people—possibly as many as 77—buried in the cemetery were infants or small children. Their smaller coffins would be difficult to locate by scanning, especially after this much time has passed.
- Some coffins containing adult burials may have decayed underground, to the point where they cannot be detected 75 years later.
- Some remains may be located below the agricultural workshop.
- Some of the individuals may have been moved to another cemetery.
- Radar technology is good, but not perfect—anomalies in the ground may affect what it can see.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools says it remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there and their families.
“We may memorialize the site, make it part of our educational component here in Hillsborough county and bring dignity back to these individuals,” Eakins said.
The next step is to send their findings to the Medical Examiner office and the State Archaeologist. It could up to 30 days for them to review the report.