Aug 20, 2023 - News

Exhibit explores five centuries of Black history in Tampa Bay

The newest exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Photo: Courtesy of the Tampa Bay History Center

The Tampa Bay History Center recently opened a permanent 100-artifact installation delving into 500 years of Black history in Tampa Bay.

Driving the news: "Travails and Triumphs" opened in June and is the history center's first new permanent exhibit in five years. It comes while Florida ramps up efforts to regulate teaching about race in public schools.

Zoom in: The exhibit starts with Spanish explorers bringing enslaved Black people to Florida and covers how Black communities navigated the Jim Crow era and the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • It also features letterman jackets from Tampa's Blake and Middleton high schools, established for Hillsborough County's Black students during segregation.
  • "Travails and Triumphs" dives into the story of Zion Cemetery, a Black cemetery that was "intentionally forgotten, and recently remembered."

The big picture: African American history is under intense scrutiny in Florida.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration rejected math instructional materials because of purported references to critical race theory and a high school Advanced Placement course on Black studies.
  • The state also approved new, controversial standards for how Black history would be taught in schools, including the suggestion that enslaved people developed skills for personal benefit.
  • Florida's volunteer African American History Task Force found only two Tampa Bay school districts meet its "exemplary" criteria, which include ensuring certain content appears in lesson plans over a 180-day period.

What they're saying: "We're at a political moment where this has become a hot potato," Brad Massey, a historian at the Tampa Bay History Center, told Axios. "But I think the stories have always been important."

  • "We wanted to tell the very diverse and sophisticated history of the black experience over the last five centuries here in Tampa Bay," Massey said.

What's next: The history center will lead a tour of "the Harlem of the South," Tampa's Central Avenue district, on Aug. 26 and Sept. 30.

  • It will also host a discussion in October with residents who lived in Tampa during segregation.

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