Fred Hearns plans one of Tampa Bay’s most ambitious Black History Month celebrations | Events and Movies | Tampa
When Fred Hearns was named Curator of Black History at the Tampa Bay History Center last year, he further cemented his stature as an authority on innovative ways to tell Tampa’s little-known black story. .
“I was thrilled to have been able to contribute to how black history in Tampa should be reflected and honored,” Hearns wrote in the press release. “Along with several other directors, I was able to sign my name on a beam as the new facility was completed, so I am literally part of that story.”
Hearns told Creative Loafing that people in Tampa Bay still reach out to him several times a week to tour or speak at different events, including family reunions, and to share his vast knowledge of the local history of the Black. Hearns says the beautiful thing about history is that it doesn’t change. Because his specialty is local black history, the facts, dates, places and events do not change, so it is easy for him to find information.
“We’re adding more every day, but we can’t go back and change the story,” he said.
Planning for this year’s Black History Month festivities began nearly a year ago when a committee comprised of a small group of Tampa Bay History Center employees, along with members of the community, was tasked with organizing events celebrating Tampa Bay’s black history.
“All of these things are new. None of these were done in Tampa,” Hearns said.
Tampa Bay History Center: Black History Month
This year’s Black History Month festivities begin February 4 with an inaugural reception titled “Embracing Our Cultural Kaleidoscope” featuring lawyer, speaker and author Ben Crump and civil rights activist and organizer, the Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. A deserving recipient from the Tampa Bay-area will receive the first newly created “Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. Award for the Preservation of Black History and Heritage” on the evening of the reception. A Hillsborough County college will also receive a cash award for its Thurgood Marshall History Club to ensure the club has ample opportunity to continue learning about black history.
The Tampa Bay History Center’s Black History Month schedule is quite diverse with various rides as well as in-person and virtual events. A new “Central Avenue West” walking tour begins Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. with Hearns as the guide. It will take a small group of people on a walk through the area west of Central Avenue with stops at Oaklawn Cemetery, the “centerpiece of the walking tour” according to Hearns, St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Kid Mason community. Center.
“We thought it was important to have it because there’s still a lot of history that we don’t have access to in Perry Harvey, Sr. Park,” Hearns said, referring to the downtown park. city dedicated in 2016 when it was the Department of the City of Tampa. Director of Community Affairs. “Just going a few blocks west, you could easily spend another two to three hours in this area.”
In recent years, Tampa has made strides in preserving its own black history. In the wake of Paul Guzzo’s reporting, lawmakers from Tampa Bay to Tallahassee introduced bills correcting “historic wrongs” done to forgotten local black cemeteries. Senator Janet Cruz said the two bills, Senate Bill 1588 and House Bill 1215, offer solutions on how to “identify, protect and maintain abandoned cemeteries.” in Florida, especially those of African Americans.
“Our bills want to commemorate abandoned African American cemeteries, as well as educate people about the history of these important resting places and Senate Bill 1588 and House Bill 1215 will create a program of historic cemeteries and an associated advisory board within the Division of Historic Resources at the Florida Department of State that will coordinate state efforts around historic cemeteries,” Cruz told WFLA.
Hearns tells CL that Tampa is not where it should be when it comes to telling the black history of its residents, but what needs to be done is happening right now, which is expected.
‘We’re not where we need to be, but at least I see plans underway to turn older places like the Jackson House into a museum in a few years,’ he said, referring to the dilapidated guesthouse which hosts black icons like Ray. Charles, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and James Brown.
Hearns also said Hillsborough County is funding a new African American museum. The Tampa Housing Authority wants to turn St. James’s Episcopal Church into a small black history museum.
“These three projects will help us get to where we need to be because Tampa has never had a legitimate black history museum,” Hearns said.
Hearns added that the Tampa Bay History Center is involved in behind-the-scenes activities at the Jackson House, which includes planning for work that begins this year saving parts of the house and infusing those parts with a new rendering of the house. House. The History Center will also manage the day-to-day operations of the Jackson House once the project is complete.
“Hopefully by this year’s hurricane season the work will have started and we will see this unfold before our very eyes,” he said.
The reason parts of Tampa’s black history are erased, Hearns said, is because the elders were more interested in moving forward and less interested in reliving their personal trauma. Most of their lives were rooted in pain, so they chose to suppress those memories and try to forget them. The problem with this is that a lot of the oral histories disappeared when the elders died; nor was there much point in trying to preserve history. Hearns tells the story of his mother living in the demolished North Boulevard homes since they opened and not knowing she grew up there until he was older when his uncle told him. She never told him anything about her experience in this area.
“Some elders deleted as much as they could, but you have families who shared and passed on their legacy,” Hearns said. “We also didn’t have many people who got into the profession of preserving history.”
There will be other Tampa Black History events throughout the year, so don’t worry if you can’t make one next month. Hearns tells CL that the next major event he is working on after next month is a Florida Emancipation Day celebration at the Tampa Bay History Center’s Chinsegut Hill property, located 5 miles north of Brooksville in Hernando County.
At the time of this story, tickets for the February 4 reception are sold out. Other events are free or free with admission to the museum.