The African-American Experience in Jim Crow Tampa - Part One
By Carolyn S. Allen, Amanda F. Carter, and Casey Thieryung
1: Letter Naming Levin Armwood Deputy Sheriff, 1895
This letter describes the appointment of Levin Armwood, a black man, as a deputy sheriff of Tampa. In 1895, Jim Crow laws were in their infancy. Armwood’s position suggests that at this early stage, the laws of segregation displayed much greater flexibility than they did in later decades. The Armwoods were a prominent black family in Tampa. Levin Armwood’s father-in-law, Mills Holloman, was a citrus grower in southern Florida. Holloman was able to become a very prominent man in Florida, eventually becoming a County Commissioner in Hillsborough County. Levin Armwood’s daughter, Blanche, was a leading member of Tampa’s black community well into the twentieth century.
2: Newspaper Articles on Streetcar Protests, June 16-21, 1904
These newspaper articles were written within a few days of each other in June of 1904. The first article concerns the implementation of formalized segregation in Tampa trolley cars. Previously, these cars had been segregated informally, with the black patrons filling up the trolleys from the back and the whites from the front. In June 1904, the company put into effect a new policy establishing a clear line between black and white sections. The article notes that “the conductors have had some trouble enforcing the new rule” and adds that some black passengers, “refusing to be restricted,” left the cars. The follow-up article is very brief, but it speaks volumes. Responding to the protests and citizen complaints, the restrictions were removed. Though it gives no details, the article clearly suggests that the black community of Tampa was resisting segregation as early as 1904. These 1904 Tampa streetcar protests can be seen as a precursor to the sort of direct action protests that are commonly associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950s.
3: A Lynching in the Scrub, 1904
This newspaper article from 1904 tells the story of two black men, J. H. Miller and Dave Bradley, who allegedly picked up another black man, Lewis Jackson, upon his release from prison and promptly delivered him to a lynch mob. Lynching was common in the Jim Crow South. In an article published in the North American Review in 1904, black activist Mary Church Terrell estimated that white lynch mobs killed 31 black people in the first three months of that year. Though it is difficult to recover the actual sequence of events described, this article serves as a reminder that racial violence was prevalent in the Jim Crow South – even in Tampa.
4: Tampa Gas Company Cooking School Postcard, circa 1916
This photographic postcard depicts Blanche Armwood and several of her students at the Tampa Gas Company Cooking School. The Tampa Gas Company Cooking School was created in 1916 with the goal of training Tampa’s African American domestic servants in the use of gas stoves. The Tampa Gas Company hoped that this would encourage more Tampa families to install gas fixtures in their homes. Blanche Armwood, an extremely well-educated woman who came from one ofTampa’s most important African American families, was selected to run the school. Her father, Levin Armwood, was deputy sheriff in the late nineteenth century. Ms. Armwood was engaged in activism for women and African Americans throughout her life, and later was appointed as the executive director of Tampa’s Urban League. Employment as domestic servants was the most common field for African American women working in the early twentieth century in Tampa and the rest of the South. At the Tampa Gas Company Cooking School, Ms. Armwood sought to help African American women working in domestic service become qualified for what could potentially be better employment opportunities.
5: An Attempted Lynching, 1923
In the featured newspaper clipping, the headline reads “Black Chased By Angry Men Lands in Jail.” Published May 26, 1923, the article details the events that had taken place the day prior in Riverview. A local African American man, identified as Fred Johnson, fled a white mob after allegedly insulting a white woman. In the Jim Crow era, it was not uncommon for African American men to be lynched for perceived insults to white women. In this case, Johnson was not lynched. However, the accused assailant, who had literally fled for his life, was arrested and jailed on unknown charges after reaching Tampa. Members of the white mob faced no charges. This article illustrates the contradictions of Jim Crow justice in Tampa.
6: Etta White Interview
In this interview, recorded in 1978, Etta White talks about the black-owned businesses in the Central Avenue neighborhood. Central Avenue was one of the main residential and commercial districts for African American residents of Tampa in the early twentieth century. White talks about many different businesses in the interview, including restaurants and drug stores. She specifically mentions a man named Solomon, who owned a drug store. White’s interview points out one of the ironies of Jim Crow segregation. Segregation provided an opportunity for the growth of black-owned businesses, which served an exclusively black clientele. The Central Avenue business district provided the commercial core of black Tampa in the early twentieth century.
7: A Study of Negro Life in Tampa (1927)
A Study of Negro Life in Tampa, primarily authored by Arthur Raper, J.H. McGrew, and Benjamin Mays, was a report compiled in 1927 at the request of the Tampa Welfare League, the Tampa Urban League, and the Tampa Young Men’s Christian Association. The report was created during a period of rapid population growth in Tampa. It was written in order to evaluate the standing of African Americans within Tampa at the time and provided extensive statistical data. The two pages excerpted here show that African Americans in Tampa primarily resided in eight neighborhoods within the city. These areas included Dobyville in West Hyde Park, West Tampa, the West Palm Avenue Section, Robles Pond, College Hill, the Garrison, Ybor City, and Tampa Proper, which included the Central Avenue district and “the Scrub.” The report also showed that African Americans in Tampa did not have full access to their city. Hospitals, schools, and other public spaces were segregated, and the city’s parks and beaches were not available to African Americans at all in most cases. This was, of course, not unlike the rest of the South in the Jim Crow era.
8: Photograph of Segregated Court Room in Tampa, 1927
This photograph was taken in Judge Leo Stalnaker’s courtroom in Tampa in 1927. Segregated courtrooms were common throughout the Jim Crow South. The African American citizens were seated in the back of the courtroom during the proceedings, while the whites were seated in the front. Looking closely, one can see the absolute division between the black and white sections. While this image depicts a courtroom, similar seating arrangements would have been practiced in many spaces in the South, notably in public transportation.