| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed

Features

Walking Through Tampa's Past To Shape Its Future








Fortune Taylor, a freed slave, owned 33 acres near Tampa's downtown waterfront in 1875.

Union supporters and some freed slaves were given war spoils at the end of the Civil War, and that is likely how Taylor was deeded the land, says Fred Hearns, a Tampa history tour guide.

She grew citrus and sold baked goods. Within about 25 years, the land was parceled and sold.

Fortune Street was named in her honor and a bridge was built over the Hillsborough River too. However, when the Interstate rearranged the downtown landscape, it changed road configurations and many streets were renamed. Fortune's bridge was renamed the Laurel Street Bridge.

Only a sliver of Fortune Street remains, between Doyle Carlton Drive and Marion Street. Hearns hopes that with the Tampa Riverwalk project, more of Fortune's history will be remembered as historical markers are planned as part of the expansive project.

Fortune's history is one of the Tampa stories Hearns shares during "Do the Local Motion'' tours of downtown. The free, one-hour guided walks sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership are the first and third Fridays each month from October to May starting at Lykes Gaslight Square Park.

Although Black History Month is the February tour's theme, Hearns is quick to point out historical facts with a Tampa tie nearly every other step on the walking tour, regardless of ancestry.

"It's kind of hard to separate,'' Hearns says. "Although they (blacks and whites) were separated, they made history together.''

The Story Begins On A High Note

The route starts at Lykes Gaslight Park across from the Old Courthouse Square, now the Tampa Police Department. About 25 listeners walk north along Franklin Street to Fortune Street, then south along Florida Avenue.

In addition to Fortune Taylor, streets are named for former presidents, leaders of the confederacy and Masonic members, Hearns says. Hearns notes Tampa's deep music roots and rich musical heritage.

Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles all played in the thriving black business district along Central Avenue. A manhole cover engraved with their names and the images of the former storefronts serves as a historic marker on the sidewalk near Florida Avenue and Zack Street. Those and other notable black musicians likely stayed at nearby Jackson Rooming House on Zack Street, one of the only hotels that allowed blacks. The vacant, 24-room building is on the National Register of Historic Places and Florida's Black Heritage Trail. It also is in need of $1.5 million in repairs and is threatened with destruction, Hearns says.

Hearns also is quick to mention that while Chubby Checker does the "twist,'' it was Hank Ballard who penned the famous song and created the dance after seeing some kids on Central Avenue gyrating.

Walking past Cass Street, Hearns points out the Floridan Hotel.

Elvis played the Homer Hesterly Armory three times in a year. When he did, he stayed at the Floridan. It was built in 1926 and at 19 stories was the tallest building in the state at the time.

Elvis frequently performed in the area perhaps because of his manager Col. Tom Parker, who had roots in the Tampa area. Parker, who worked various jobs, discovered Elvis while touring with a circus in Memphis. Parker also was at one time a city dog catcher.

Growing Into The Pulpit

A slightly askew, aging bronze plaque is at the corner of Franklin and Fortune streets. The sign is a stoic and spartan reminder that the influential Rev. Billy Graham also got his start on the streets of Tampa.

Graham was sent to school at Florida Bible Institute in nearby Temple Terrace, what now is Florida College. When he wasn't in class, he spent time on the streets downtown, helping the homeless and establishing his ministry.

"I'm hoping one day we will have a statue on the corner,'' Hearns says.

Desegregation And Other Social Changes

Although in the South, downtown Tampa businesses quickly embraced integration, Hearns says.

Hearns was in seventh grade when black college students staged a sit-in at a North Carolina Woolworth's the first week of February 1960. The store was chosen for good reason: Woolworth's and its lunch counter was a national chain. The sit-in fete could be replicated throughout the South, Hearns says.

A few weeks later, Woolworth's, situated at the intersection of Franklin and Cass Streets, was the scene of a similar protest. A few weeks later, businesses integrated, Hearns says. The windows are boarded and weeds are growing from between the cracks of some of the bricks of the now-vacant building.

Tampa also played a part in the creation of a huge social program to help in the wake of desegregation.

Perry Harvey Sr. worked with Congressman Sam Gibbons on an effort to give struggling black youths a head start in education, Hearns says. That idea and the name became the making of the Head Start program.

Passing Stories To The Next Generation

Towanda Anthony, 42, is native to Tampa. She has worked for the city the last seven years. She found out about the tour a couple weeks earlier and decided to check it out during her lunch break.

Anthony was intrigued by the story of Fortune Taylor and planned to share some of the history she learned with her children. She will even try to take them on an upcoming tour.

"I'll definitely spread the word and make sure more people know about this,'' Anthony says. "I heard a lot of history I didn't know about.''

Jared Leone is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. He writes about all things Tampa Bay. Follow him @jared_leone on Twitter. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jared Leone.

Jared Leone is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Underwriting Partners