Tampa celebrates Black History silver anniversary

02/15/13 Janelle Irwin
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Today marked the 25th anniversary of Black History Celebrations in Tampa. The annual ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center was even more festive this year as volunteers honored some of the city’s most accomplished movers of African-American equality.

Every year, the black history committee puts on one heck of a shin dig to honor the culture’s rich history in Tampa. In between lively gospel music, speakers regaled memories of growing up in the African-American communities of Tampa.

“Actually, Tampa in 1959, was one of the first cities in the south to form a biracial committee and from that committee emerged the city of Tampa office of community relations.”

That’s Fred Hearns, a member of the city of Tampa Black History Committee.

“Under Mayor Greco in the 1960s, that office began to really get involved in its mission which was to promote good race relations in the city of Tampa.”

From their, Hearns said the conditions only got better. In the late 80’s, under former Tampa Mayor Sandra Freedman, community organizers pulled together the first Black History Celebration.

“He tried to select employees from the various city departments to get some good representation across the board. He was able to do so and they began having those programs and I remember. I was at the there at the very first one in city council chambers. Eventually the program out grew city council chambers.”

Each year, students are invited from neighboring schools. Last year, students from the Rampello Downtown Partnership k-8 school’s band performed and other students hosted the living history display. Harold Scott is one of the members of the black history committee.

“But even more important, they have taken away from these events a better understanding of who we are as Tampanians and as Americans.”

The celebration, held every February in honor of Black History Month, also honors prominent African-American members of the community. This year, Janet and Marvin Martin were honored for work with the city in furthering race relations. Betty Greene Johnson was awarded for her work as a city employee for more than 35 years and Perry Harvey Jr. received an award posthumously as the first African-American to serve on Tampa City Council. The Black History Committee also chose a lifetime achievement winner introduced by Tampa City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles.

“Well it means that what we started 25 years ago has really prospered and we have some very, very good people that are working that are very hard working and dedicated and I just appreciate what they’re doing. It also gives a good indication that the black history month program has made a significant impact.”

After receiving his award and posing for dozens of photos, Bowden said one of his fondest memories is being invited to a Thanksgiving Dinner at Donatello’s Restaurant and being able to continue that tradition for families in need.

“And it’s just a good, good feeling to see the young folk when they come into a four star restaurant – their eyes light up. They’re being served by waiters with the tux on and then we also get some of the former NFL players to come and interact with them.”

Bowden was received by a standing ovation by hundreds of members of the community from state Senators to city officials to local business owners. Each was grateful for both Bowden and the Black History Committee for making sure the community’s heritage is not forgotten.

The City of Tampa Black History Committee will host the Library History Roadshow featuring the Harlem Library. That event will be open from ten in the morning until 3 in the afternoon at 1505 Nebraska Avenue in Tampa on February 23rd.

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