Historical marker to commemorate Tampa Civil Rights sit-ins

Woolworth project raises money for historical mark

TAMPA, Fla. — “They don’t believe it — a lot of them. They say why did ya’ll do that? Why didn’t you just sit down anyway,” said Clarence Fort. 

Civil Rights leader 79-year-old Clarence Fort tells his story about February 29, 1960 to Hillsborough County students. 

“They think it’s far fetched. It’s hard for them to believe those things actually happened,” he said. 

The day, 48 years ago, he and 35 other African Americans, many NAACP Youth Council students, sat down at the Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Tampa during desegregation.

“I start out by telling them can you imagine going into a store, spending $200 but if you want a hamburger and a coke at the lunch counter, they’ll tell you you have to stand at the end of the counter or get it to go,” he said.

The sit-in and many more that followed across Tampa led to desegregation. 

For years there hasn't been anything outside the Woolworth building on Franklin Street marking the victory until now. 

“I think once they see that marker, and then find out what’s it’s all about, they will put their minds to it, pull it up maybe on the internet just to see what happened.”

The ‘Woolworth Project’, an effort led by former Tampa TV journalist Tammie Fields, raised money to install a historical marker on the cracked sidewalk. 

Hillsborough County commissioners voted to help with the funding. A marker, Fort hopes, will spark the interest of many students to come. 

“They’re having different tours to stops and I know this will be one of the stops,” said Fort.   

It's a story 79-year-old Fort can only tell first hand for so many more years. But the marker will be permanent recognition of the fortitude of a few brave enough to fight for equality.

“The only problem I had when I walked out, there was two white gentleman and one of them spit on my shoulder,” he said.

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