“The Tampa Technique”: Sit-Ins and the Biracial Committee - Part Two
9: Protests at Downtown Theaters
On June 22, 1963 the Florida Sentinel Bulletin ran an article describing a demonstration in downtown Tampa against local movie theaters refusing to admit black patrons. Headed by James Hammond, president of Young Adults for Progressive Action (YAPA), this protest was meant to spur negotiations that were proceeding too slowly for many activists. The so-called “Tampa Technique” utilized by the Bi-Racial Committee stressed the need for integration to occur through discussion and cooperation, rather than protest. Even Reverend Leon Lowry, who had led the first organized sit-ins in Tampa, responded by saying he was “very disappointed” in the movie theater protest, preferring “to see integration in Tampa business facilities done…through negotiations rather than demonstrations.” Reactions like this one indicate the growing tension between the youth groups, who wanted quicker integration, and older individuals who worked closely with moderate white leaders. By this point, the Bi-Racial Committee had been operating for over three years, yet students still felt compelled to confront racial issues independently, which indicates a decline of faith in Tampa’s traditional method. In the end, the Bi-Racial Committee’s continuing negotiations with the theater operators resulted in successful integration after a few months.
10: Colby Armstrong Letter on the Tampa Technique
In this letter, business leader Colby Armstrong applauded Tampa’s “reputation as one of the outstanding cities in the U.S. in its race relations.” This distinction, Armstrong reminds various law enforcement agencies, civic groups, and other interested organizations, “didn’t just happen.” Armstrong gave credit to the Bi-Racial Committee, whose commitment to working with local businesses and community leaders towards desegregation proved a great economic boon for the city. In spite of the very real successes of the Bi-Racial Committee, Armstrong’s self-congratulations proved a bit premature. In 1967, after the disbanding of the committee, race riots broke out near downtown. For black Tampans weary of white oppression and substandard living conditions, racial equality remained a dream deferred.
11: The 1967 Tampa Riots
On June 13, 1967, an editorial appeared in The Tampa Times declaring, “It Wasn’t Supposed to Happen.” Tampa was a city that promoted itself as a progressive and moderate place when it came to dealing with racial conflicts. However, during the summer of 1967 this image began to splinter. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), African Americans still faced discrimination. When Martin Chambers, a black 19-year old, was shot and killed by police on June 11, simmering racial tensions ignited. As the city was engulfed in destruction and unrest, some individuals began to question if the “Tampa Technique” remained an effective method for promoting change and protecting the black community. The Tampa Times was decidedly in favor of reestablishing an avenue for peaceful negotiations. However, this editorial also acknowledged that an opposing ideology was gaining ground, with the “young, wilder, impressionable element” dividing from the “responsible leaders” of the African American community. This editorial ends with the question, “How do you put Humpty Dumpty together again?” The Bi-Racial Committee had served as the glue holding Tampa together for seven years, but for all of its success, the committee had failed to prevent the 1967 riots.
12. Cody Fowler and Leon Lowry Accept Lane Bryant Awards (1967)
On November 30, 1967, seven years after the creation of the Bi-Racial Committee in Florida, Cody Fowler and Reverend Leon Lowry were awarded the Lane Bryant Award for distinguished volunteer service in New York City. In their speeches, Fowler and Lowry emphasized all that Tampa had accomplished as well as the work that remained to be done. Cody Fowler stated in his speech that “the white people of Tampa have not righted all wrongs nor eliminated all bases of complaint of our under privileged citizens. Programs have been initiated that give promise of a brighter future for our Negro citizens in the lower brackets.” In his speech, Lowry stated “as a result of our work in Tampa, we have seen hope come alive in those who were hopeless. We have seen what happens when opportunity comes to those who thought they would never get a chance to demonstrate their ability to do a job.” In spite of the riots earlier that summer, the actions of these men, the various committees, and implementation of the “Tampa Technique” allowed the city to continue to work towards racial equality. As significant was the labor and sacrifice of generations of black activists in the city. Within the larger Civil Rights narrative, Tampa emerged as a unique city of progressive action, which integrated relatively easily, without the type of bloodshed seen in other parts of the South.