New Plant Museum exhibit sheds light on Tampa’s black history in early 1900s'When the Train Comes Along': Booker T. Washington at the Tampa Bay Casino

Almost 110 years ago, Booker T. Washington came to the Tampa Bay Casino to give his 1912 address to a struggling, segregated city. Today, the Plant Museum at the University of Tampa, wants to conjure back this oft-forgotten moment in our history with the exhibition "When the Train Comes Along.”
“I’ve been here a long time and we’ve done some pretty stunning and scholarly things, but this is an exceptional effort from our curators,” says Cynthia Gandee Zinober, Executive Director of the Henry B. Plant Museum. “ ‘When the Train Comes Along’ is the title of a spiritual. We want to focus on this element of black culture, and particularly [Booker T.] Washington. We felt it was time to do a truly meaningful show. The museum world today is very focused on inclusion and diversity, so we felt this was a perfect exhibition for this moment in time.”
Though the Plant Museum is a lifestyle museum and not necessarily an ‘object museum,’ this exhibition honors the museum’s mission to reflect the life and times surrounding the historic Tampa Bay Hotel and the Tampa Bay Casino, which was like the city’s performing arts center from 1896-1941. Collecting related paraphernalia to tell the story of Tampa in 1912, the exhibition will be showing physical artifacts of the times alongside photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, sound recordings, and maps.
“We had to interpret some very awkward material like letters and magazines from those times that we were uncomfortable with. We wrote a notice to visitors that this was a reflection of the time, but we don’t want to hide history,” Gandee Zinober says. “But there are so many intimate details that we have found, and I think people will truly enjoy learning.”

To expand on the exhibition, a Zoom lecture “Placing Black Progress on Display: Booker T. Washington in Florida, March, 1912” will be presented on May 20th at noon. Dr. David H. Jackson Jr. will be hosting the talk, discussing Washington’s 1912 Tampa visit in the middle of the Jim Crow Era.

Later in the fall, the Plant Museum will be holding a Sunday Gospel Brunch on Aug. 8 at the Oxford Exchange and another lecture “Shrewd Business Men": The Family of J. Andrew Williams and Jim Crow Tampa led by Guest Curator Dr. Charles McGraw Groh on Sept. 17.

“We all want to have a little part in changing society and effecting our culture. We felt like this exhibit would target underserved members of our community,” Gandee Zinober says.
To find out more and get tickets, visit the Plant Museum website.
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Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”