Tampa Historic Tour -by Emily Reddy


On Saturday morning about 35 people boarded a HARTline bus for a 2 1/2 hour historical tour of Tampa. This was the third tour of its type, coordinated by the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Libraries and led by the group's President, Fred Hearns. The tour focused on the African American and Hispanic history of Tampa. WMNFs Emily Reddy went along, and she filed this report.

As curious tour participants piled onto a city bus waiting at the Robert W. Saunders Library, they were handed a list of 101 sites that they would see along the way. As the bus wove through Ybor City, Tampa Heights, and the old Central Avenue area of Tampa, Hearns acted as tour guide, sharing facts and anecdotes with tour attendees. Historic spots included the first black school that went beyond the 7th grade, a restaurant visited by Castro, a field where the Buffalo Soldiers stayed during the Spanish-American War, and the future site of the Donald Trump Tower. Ray Charles even got his start in this part of Tampa. (Hearns...one year behind me in school.)

Besides being president of the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Libraries group, tour guide Fred Hearns is also Director of Community Affairs for the city of Tampa. He and many of the tour participants remember the Central Avenue area, a bustling commercial district created to fill all the needs of the African American community. They shared their stories throughout the tour. Here's Hearns describing the Central Avenue area. (Hearns...all over the world.)

However, I-275 and desegregation itself destroyed the Central Avenue area community. (Hearns...the death of Central as a vibrant community.)

A stop at Oaklawn Cemetery explores the older history of Tampa. It holds not just governors and mayors, but slaves, yellow fever victims, ancient native american remains, and Vicente Martinez Ybor, namesake of Ybor City. Hearns stops to read one of the headstones. (Hearns...buried together here, in Oaklawn.)

Toward the end of the tour, the bus stops at the Paradise Missionary Baptist Church. The worship area takes up just a small part of the church. The rest has been converted into a black history and art museum, full of old photos, sculptures, and memorabilia.

Herman Munroe pauses at one photo, a group of school children in front of a wooden school building. The label says that the photo was taken in 1937. Munroe points to one of the boys and calls his wife over. It's him at the age of 3 or 4. He remembers the school well, even though the building itself is long gone, and talks about some of his old classmates (Munroe...Yeah, yeah.)

Munroe also remembers the destruction of the Central Avenue area. (Munroe...for the black community.)

After the tour ends, the group gathers at the library for lunch and conversation. Hearns invites tour participants to ask questions or to share their own stories of growing up in the area. One woman shares her memories of the Apollo dance hall. (Davis...)

Ada T. Payne's granddaughter, Mary James, is the secretary of the library's friends group. She thinks that her grandmother would have appreciated this historical tour. (James...)

James says that this tour is a significant beginning, but that the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Libraries group has more programs on the way. (James...)

Another tour is scheduled for this Saturday at 10am and more are being planned. Call Fred Hearns at (813) 274-5690 for reservations. There is a fee for the tour, but lunch is included in the cost. With WMNF News, this is Emily Reddy.

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