TAMPA, Fla. — Underground scans determined that more than 140 coffins comprising an unmarked cemetery were found buried under a field on the King High School campus, the Hillsborough County School District said Wednesday.
- Scans confirm presence of historic cemetery under King High field
- Cemetery is thought to be African-American "potter's field"
- State archaeologist, Medical Examiner will review findings
The surveys were ordered late last month after a former county employee contacted the school board about a potential cemetery buried beneath the southeast portion of campus.
The site is thought to be the location of a historic African-American cemetery dating back to the 1940s or 1950s.
King High, located at 6815 N. 56th St., opened in 1960.
The site surveys, conducted by a contracted company called GeoView, found "clear evidence of burials" on the southern edge of campus, a School District news release said. Ground-penetrating radar found approximately 145 coffins, buried 3 to 5 feet deep.
The pattern of the findings matches historical records for a "potter's field," or pauper's field, called Ridgewood Cemetery, the district said.
"Hillsborough County Public Schools remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families," officials said.
The area on campus where the graves are includes an agricultural lab facilities and one building built in the late 1970s. The district said it's making plans to remove that building. The area has been fenced off since last month, when the former employee raised concerns.
The School District is delivering the findings to the Medical Examiner and state archaeologist per Florida law. Their review could take a month. After that, they will decide whether to turn the land back over to the district or keep possession of it.
Graves under MacDill?
During today's meeting one community brought up the possibility that the King High School situation may not be the last time Hillsborough County has to examine property for lost African American cemeteries.
"I know that the school district is focusing on King High School, but this committee is probably going to have more to deal with than King High School because there's probably more to come," said County Commissioner Les Miller.
Miller said there are indications that additional gravesites could be sitting in the Port Tampa area on MacDill Air Force Base property. He said he learned this from a citizen who has been researching the issue.
"Port Tampa was a city in itself, had a vibrant African American community," Miller explained. "I understand [the citizen] has found something in the Port Tampa area that will be coming forth."
Currently, what might be found on the plot of land in question remains unclear.
MacDill spokesperson Lt. Brandon Hanner issued the following statement on the issue to the Tampa Bay Times:
"As of now, we cannot confirm the existence of a cemetery on base. However, we do have resources that will be allocated in the near future to either confirm or deny it is on the base."