"Travails and Triumphs" chronicles over 500 years of local history

Did you know that the first African-descended individuals who came to Florida arrived as early as the 1500s? The majority were enslaved by Spaniards and involuntarily sailed to Florida as part of exploratory expeditions. It's at this point that the Tampa Bay History Center's newest exhibit, "Travails and Triumphs," begins chronicling the 500-year history of Hillsborough County's Black residents.

Five decades of Florida history

"Travails and Triumphs" covers numerous periods in Florida's Black history. This includes the settlements that formed in the 1700s and 1800s, when maroon communities and Seminole Indian tribes came together to resist removal from the land. Maps of Tampa's Fort Brooke help tell the story of how the U.S. military employed war strategies to track and relocate maroons and Seminoles.

The exhibit also touches upon the historical significance of Tampa's Central Avenue, which was a Black business hub in the late 1890s. By the 1940s, Central Avenue had more Black residents and Black-owned businesses than any other area in Hillsborough County. Clothing items designed by Ann Lowe, a successful dressmaker who lived and worked in Tampa, are on display. Lowe specialized in creating elaborate gowns for Gasparilla and debutante balls, and is known for her custom pieces designed specifically for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Zion Cemetery, also known as Robles Pond Cemetery, is another fascinating subject addressed in "Travails and Triumphs." To give visitors more information, an interactive touchscreen allows users to take a deeper, digital dive on the people buried there. It's speculated that over 1,000 Black people may have been interred in the Tampa cemetery between 1900 and 1923. However, the cemetery was erased from official public memory, and houses were built on top of it. The cemetery was rediscovered in 2018.

These are just a few of the historical points covered in the exhibit. Dr. Brad Massey, a curator at the Tampa Bay History Center, explained that people of African descent have lived in the area for decades and that the exhibit seeks to provide a window into their past.

"One of the takeaways that we want the community members to get from "Travails and Triumphs" is that Tampa has a very long, very sophisticated, and diverse Black history. It stretches from the first enslaved African people that came with the early Spanish explorers all the way to the Black Lives Matters protest and beyond. And what we tried to do here is tell that very long story - not just the Civil Rights story, not just the 20th century or 21st century story - but a long, 500-year story that really encapsulates the long Black history of the area," said Massey.

Local artifacts and digital touchscreens

"Travails and Triumphs," which is the center's first new permanent exhibit in five years, opened June 2 and includes roughly 100 local artifacts. Interactive touch screens throughout the exhibit provide in-depth context and background stories to the featured subjects. To ensure that a wider audience can enjoy the display, artifact labels and signage throughout the exhibit are written in English and Spanish.

The Tampa Bay History Center welcomes guests to visit the new exhibit, free of charge, on Juneteenth (June 19). The history center, located at 801 Water St. in Tampa, will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Juneteenth. Visitors can find more information and obtain free tickets on theĀ Tampa Bay History Center website.

"Travails and Triumphs" was made possible with support from the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.

Last Modified: 1/25/2024, 6:46:04 PM

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