Step inside Ersula's History Shop and experience history

If Ersula Odom invites you to take a ride with her from Tampa to Savannah, be ready to settle in for the long haul. And an adventure.

You’ll end up on a 14-hour trip where she ditches the interstates for backroads and highways like U.S. 301, so she can stop at the antique shops on the way to Savannah. Odom is also likely to hit a few garage sales along the way. It could be one of the most interesting rides of your life.

Odom is in search of pieces of history that are for sale. Pieces that current generations often don’t realize how relevant they were to those whose names are on earlier branches of a family tree.

She began learning about her family’s history early on while growing up in Georgia. Her first memory is pulling a cigar box from beneath her grandmother’s bed and seeing snippets of the woman’s life inside. There were photographs, letters and a lock of hair from her grandmother’s sister. And her grandmother had stories about all of them.

Young Ersula didn’t know it then, but those cherished pieces of her grandmother’s past would shape her own future. First, she became her family’s historian, then the preservationist and celebrant of generations of African-American history.

Odom loves collecting things from the past. She went to auctions to buy antique books. Then she began buying anything that displayed a date.

“Magazines, newspapers, stamps. If it had a date on it, I was going for it,” she says.

She is not only her family’s historian but plays that role for generations of today and tomorrow. Odom does that in many ways, including through the stories and books she’s written, her portrayal of Mary McLeod Bethune in a one-woman show and her work as a docent at the Tampa Bay History Center.

She’s long had an online store but opened Ersula’s History Shop in February at 1421 Tampa Park Place in Tampa.

“The store is an experience,” Odom says, with a laugh.

The shelves are arranged by themes as a way to educate visitors. One with a book by the daughter of a Negro League baseball player also has information about the renowned Belmont Heights Little League where former Major League Baseball players Derek Bell, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield played as kids.

“If you’re interested in baseball, you may be drawn to a book about a Negro League player,” she says.

Some things are for sale, others are part of Odom’s personal collection that she uses to add to the experience. The rattlesnake skin that her mother’s oldest brother mounted on the board is something she uses to talk about the Rattlers of Florida A&M University.

Odom also creates one-of-a-kind legacy walls, which visually bring to life the story of a family, a business, a school or other groups. 

“I can put up the story you want to be told,” she says.

It’s part of her “educate as you decorate” mantra. 

“The purpose is to provide an educational moment every time someone approaches,” she says.

Odom is intrigued by how history often has unexpected ties to today. She was once driving home from Miami and stopped at an antique store, where she found a genealogy chart from a century ago. The chart had a dozen first names that are also in Odom’s family, including hers and her parents. But the two families were not related.

That’s the magic of history. It can touch our lives when we least expect it.

For more information go to Ersula's History Shop or, to learn more about Ersula Odom's work Sula Too.



 

Read more articles by Marilyn Young.

Marilyn Young is an award-winning journalist who has led newsrooms in Indiana and Florida, including as managing editor of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. She made the transition to corporate communications, serving as managing editor for the state’s largest health insurance company. Marilyn enjoys telling the stories of nonprofits, people and companies who make their communities a better place to live. Much of her spare time is dedicated to animal rescue, where she works with others who are committed to helping cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and any other animal find their forever home.