Tampa's woolworth project: CiIvil rights activists pushing for new historic marker

Posted at 6:01 PM, Jul 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-11 18:01:32-04

"I was so nervous. I think I ordered grits and eggs and bacon and coffee,” explained Clarence Fort, Tampa Civil Rights Activist.

Tampa's part in the Civil Rights movement is still told by people who remember being there.

"I remember us walking in and them putting up the signs saying closed and sitting at the counter,” said Florida House Rep. Arthenia Joyner.

"They called me the "N" word and said we're not going to let you eat here but the store manager saw them and he came over and called the police,” said Fort.

But the spot where Civil Rights leaders and the NAACP Youth Council changed history is just an empty building on a cracked sidewalk.

Fort wants to see February 29, 1960 honored on a historical marker on North Franklin Street.

"Other parts of the South, they were actually dragging them out. Police beating them, putting water hoses on them by the fire department and I didn't know how Tampa was going to react,” said Fort.

The next day, Fort says, Mayor Julian B. Lane sent police escorts to make sure the marchers were safe on their walk from a local church to downtown Tampa.

No physical violence erupted at Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960.

Their efforts led to desegregation of lunch counters by that fall city-wide in Tampa.

Now honoring their bravery with a historical marker is underway.

"People need to know what happened in this community and how we've progressed since that time,” said Rep. Joyner.

"Tampa's Woolworth Project" has a GoFundMe page, social media accounts created by USF graduate student and former Channel 10 TV news anchor Tammie Fields.

Other southern cities have already memorialized their lunch counter sit-in sites.

Tampa Civil Rights leaders like Fort would like to finish the job they started.

"It would be great to have something to memorialize where we were at that time,” said Fort.

Even if they didn't get a chance to eat that meal.

"Never finished it,” he said.