Black history in Tampa is deep – but it might seem hard to find. African Americans have lived in the area since before cities were incorporated. Yet, many Black historic sites are no longer standing due to segregation, discrimination and ignorance. There are Black cemeteries still being discovered under roadways and businesses. Some buildings have been demolished without regard to their historical value simply because they were owned or used by the African American community. Thankfully, though, there are still some locations that highlight Black history in Tampa and its surrounding areas.
Pinellas County African American History Museum | Clearwater
Housed in a former elementary school, the Pinellas County African American History Museum tells of Black history in Pinellas County. With events and rotating exhibits on various topics, the museum includes information about Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.
Heritage Village | Largo
Located on the same campus as the Florida Botanical Gardens, the structures of Heritage Village tells the story of life in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries in Pinellas County. Among the 28 buildings are Union Academy, a Black school in the early 20th century in Tarpon Springs. There’s also a train depot with segregated waiting areas for whites and “colored” riders. Admission to Heritage Village is free.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum | St. Petersburg
Named for the man who is the father of Black History Month, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is located in the section of St. Petersburg that segregated where African Americans could live until the 1970s. The museum itself is in the former offices of the Jordan Park public housing development. With rotating art exhibits highlighting Black creators, the Woodson also is home to a Black Live Matters street mural and the Tampa Bay Collard Greens Festival, held in February.
Oaklawn Cemetery | Tampa
The final resting place for prominent residents of Tampa, Oaklawn Cemetery was the first public burial ground in the city. Initially open to white and Black burials, the first burial onsite was of an unnamed enslaved person. It’s also the location of the grave of Fortune Taylor, a formerly enslaved person who, with her husband, was a baker and farmer on 30 acres in the downtown area of Tampa. The current Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge goes through some of her former property, further signifying the importance of Black history in Tampa.
Robert W. Saunders Library | Tampa
Originally called the Ybor City Branch Library, the city renamed the branch in 2003 the Robert W. Saunders Library building in honor of the civil rights activist and former NAACP Florida field director. In addition to traditional services, the library has exhibits in the lobby relating to the Civil Right movement and art inside and outside the building. There is also the ability to conduct Black research at the library, and there are often events held there.
Tampa Bay History Center Central Avenue Walks | Tampa
The Central Avenue area of Tampa was the area that was where African Americans were required to live during segregation. The community was thriving and had homes, entertainment and businesses where the residents weren’t made to feel like they were different or excluded, as they were in other parts of town. The Tampa Bay History Center walking tours take attendees to Central Avenue’s east or west sides to learn about Black history in Tampa between the 1890s and 1960s.
The east tour covers the Saunders library and other locations within a one-mile radius. The west tour, which is more limited in availability and newer, is led by the History Center’s curator of Black history and explores Oaklawn Cemetary, the former branch of Tampa’s NAACP office and the location where Ray Charles first recorded.
Ybor City Museum State Park | Tampa
A city within a city, Ybor is a one-mile plot of land just outside of downtown Tampa. At one time, Ybor City was the cigar making capital of the United States. It had a diverse community with residents of Cuba, Italian and African descent working together. Segregation forced each ethnicity to socialize in different clubs and that history is told at the Ybor City Museum State Park. A part of the Florida state park system, the museum highlights life in Ybor through the 1960s.
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