TAMPA, Fla. — In the 1950s, bringing in Interstate 4 and federal funds to beautify the city was an attractive idea. The changes did not quite have the long-lasting impact leaders hoped for.
Arthenia Joyner’s dad ran the Cotton Club on Central Avenue, one of the cornerstones of the black business district.
“It was a family for us on Central Avenue. Everybody knew everybody,” Joyner said.
Her family lived right around the corner. If you tried looking for the business or her childhood home today, you would never find it.
“When you exit I-4, at 22nd Street, halfway down the exit is where our house stood,” Joyner said.
In the mid 1950s the whole neighborhood changed through federal dollars.
“Everyone thought it was going to be, ‘We’re going to rebuild the city,’ but really the federal government knocked down the buildings that were undesirable,” said Andrew Huse with USF Library Special Collections.
The move for urban renewal was not without controversy. The black community did not feel included. Families were kicked out of their homes because of eminent domain.
“Lo and behold, it came to Central Avenue,” Joyner said. “My father was never the same.”
“Really, urban renewal was a complete failure. It didn’t really renew anything,” Huse said. “It moved a lot of people around and complicated a lot of people’s lives.”
Urban renewal spread people living on Central Avenue other areas of the city. Many settled down in North Tampa near USF.
Businesses built by and for African-Americans quickly disappeared. Historians say urban renewal also marked the decline of Tampa’s downtown for both black and white business owners, something that is only beginning to change some six decades later.