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USF Libraries Exhibits

The African-American Experience in Jim Crow Tampa - Part Two

John Williams Interview, Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project, Special and Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library.

By Carolyn S. Allen, Amanda F. Carter, and Casey Thieryung

9: John Williams Interview

In this interview, 76-year old John Williams recollects his experience as a blue-collar African American man in the Jim Crow era. In this excerpt, he describes his experience with segregated medical facilities. In Tampa, black people received care at the Clara Frye Hospital, a low budget facility established in the early twentieth century by Nurse Clara Frye. Whites, however, were served at the Tampa Municipal Hospital, which is now known as Tampa General Hospital on Davis Island. The Clara Frye Hospital began as a clinic that operated from Frye’s home. This hospital, like many African American facilities, lacked the finances to properly staff the facility and to upgrade equipment. As Williams mentions, the severity of his medical condition allowed him to visit whites-only Tampa Municipal Hospital.

Voter Registration Statements

Box 4, Leland Hawes Collection, Special and Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library.  For more, see the link below the exhibit text.

10: Voter Registration Statements, March 5, 1940

The white primary was one of several strategies used to restrict African Americans from voting in the early twentieth century. The Democratic Party in Florida had restricted its membership to only whites since 1902. While African Americans could theoretically participate in general elections without party affiliation, primary elections were open only to party members. Since the Democratic Party of Florida dominated state politics, the winner in the Democratic primary almost always went on to win in the general election. Lacking the ability to join the Democratic Party, African Americans were denied meaningful political participation. These two notarized statements from citizens of Tampa, dated March 5, 1940, show that African Americans actively sought to register to vote as Democrats in Hillsborough County and were systematically denied the right. These documents are evidence of local African American citizens’ continual struggle against the denial of their legal rights. The Democratic Party in Florida finally removed the registration restrictions in 1946.

 

Bettye Davis Interview, Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project, Special and Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library.

11: Bettye Davis Interview

Bettye Davis recorded this oral history interview in 1994. She vividly describes her experience growing up in her family’s businesses and those of her neighbors in the Central Avenue district. As a result of segregation, this section of Central Avenue catered to Tampa’s African American citizens in the Jim Crow era and black residents owned almost all of the businesses there. The denial of full access to the rest of Tampa’s housing, retail, and social opportunities necessitated the establishment of an enclave that would welcome black customers. There was also a distinct and flourishing cultural life within the Central Avenue district, which can, again, be traced to the fact that black citizens were denied access to the greater Tampa area’s cultural opportunities. Born out of necessity, the African American community of Central Avenue celebrated and enjoyed life almost entirely within their own community.

 

Photograph of the Scrub

Box 15, USF Department of Anthropology African Americans in Florida Collection, Special and Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library.

12: Photograph of the Scrub, circa 1951

This photograph of a row of houses in the Scrub was taken circa 1951. The Scrub was one of the primary neighborhoods where African Americans resided in early twentieth century Tampa. 1927’s A Study of Negro Life in Tampa described the Scrub as offering cheap rental quarters that attracted “the new comer and the generally poorly paid.” At the time that the report was written, city sewer lines had not been extended to the Scrub and many of the buildings were considered unsatisfactory from either a housing or sanitary perspective. The Scrub was located near the Central Avenue district, between present-day Downtown Tampa and Ybor City, and was an important site of African American cultural life. 

 

Rosewood Massacre Reparations Bill

Box 49, Robert S. and Helen W. Saunders collection, Special and Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library.

13: Rosewood Massacre Reparations Bill

This piece of legislation relates to a horrific racial massacre that occurred in Rosewood, Florida in 1923. The violence began after a white woman charged a black resident of Rosewood with sexual assault. A white mob formed, located the accused, and lynched him. With their thirst for blood unsatisfied, the mob moved on the small African American community of Rosewood, destroying the town entirely. The documented casualties included six African Americans and two whites. In the aftermath of the riot, no one was held accountable. The survivors of the massacre fled the community, taking a vow of silence. This bill acknowledged that the Rosewood massacre did take place, providing an apology on behalf of the state of Florida and offering restitution to surviving residents and descendants of Rosewood.