As part of Black History Month, we’re taking a dive into the history of the Black community in Tampa.
We’re looking at a historic document from 1927, called "A Study of Negro Life in Tampa.”
“It’s a very sobering look at what Tampa looked like back then,” said Andrew Hues, Associate Librarian in Special Collections at the University of South Florida.
“It talks about what conditions were like at Black schools. It talks about what conditions were like at African American hospitals and in neighborhoods,” said Brad Massey, Saunders Foundation Curator of Public History at the Tampa Bay History Center.
This report was conducted by Black citizens with the purpose of getting an accurate view of what life was like for them in Tampa to compile important data.
“They’re very critical of those who run the city and especially the privileged in all corners of the city for not working to make the city a better place,” said Massey.
“This is not the kind of thing that was studied very much back then. Most civic and political leaders honestly couldn't have cared less and most voters were in the same boat. This report was used to wake up local leaders as to how much inequity was going on," said Hues.
The overall message that comes across in the report is that conditions for Black residents were really bad. Life was difficult and communities were extremely under-resourced.
“It gives us a window into the hardships of what is really kind of peak Jim Crow in the 1920s when you see the racial discrimination, when you see the segregation and you can see that it’s not just about separate facilities, it’s about inadequate facilities and this intentional move to not put resources into certain parts of the community,” said Massey.
As described in the report, landlords would crowd rent quarters together on adjoining or shared lots. Many of these poor areas lacked plumbing, sewer connections, and modern amenities.
For many Black people, there was no running water. The study details everything from recreational facilities, medical care, to residential life.
“The rent was very high. There was just a lot of kind of gouging going on,” said Hues.
“One glaring statistic that really stands out from that study is almost 50% of the stillbirths in the city happened to Black mothers. Even though African Americans only made up about 20% of Tampa’s population,” said Massey.
Historians say this document now is priceless, giving us a chance to look back and understand what it was like in Tampa almost 100 years ago.
“I think it's really hard for people today to imagine the racial landscape as it was back then. I think whether you’re White or Black it really defies the imagination. Until you’re able to look at some hard numbers and apply your imagination to those numbers and what that world must’ve looked like,” said Hues.
“When we think about the past, a lot of times we think about people that we’ve deemed to be important like politicians, entertainers, and things like that. What the study really gives us is a look into the daily lives of really everyday people, people who are working in the community,” said Massey.