Juneteeth: Two historic Tampa sites look to be remembered and restored

Juneteenth is a countrywide holiday on June 19 that marks the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. 

Unfortunately, in many communities emancipation did not mean equality. Instead, communities struggled for decades to gain the civil rights promised to all American citizens.  

Downtown Tampa is home to faded remnants of that history. Now, a movement is underway to save two influential sites that not only played a key role in African American history, but also help tell the story of Tampa's history. 

Closed for decades, Tampa's Jackson House and the Woolworth Department stand overlooked and obscured by the march of time. 

They harken back to an era when Tampa was anything but a just community -- they are from the Jim Crow era. 

"Jim Crow is really interesting because obviously it's an attempt to make the black community in Tampa second class citizens," said Brad Massey, Curator of Public History at the Tampa Bay History Center. 

It is this time the Jackson House, an African American owned and operated boarding house rises and thrives. 

The Jackson House featured 24 rooms and hosted guests ranging from famous musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles to African American porters. 

"Unfortunately, the Jackson House is not in the best of shape, but is so important because after urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s and the creation of the interstate system a lot of the businesses that were important to the black community were obliterated," Massey said. 

It is on the National Register of Historic Places, but has been closed off for 30 years. Efforts are now underway to restore it. 

A few blocks west, in a part of downtown once effectively closed off to black society, the Woolworth building is waiting for its revival. 

In the 1960s, there was an African American who sat on the Woolworth's segregated lunch counter. This sparked Tampa's slow march to desegregation. 

Now, after languishing for years, it is the site of another historic breakthrough for historic preservation. A new owner is in the process of bringing it back to life. 

"The preservation of these structures is important. If we don't have these material things from the past it becomes much more difficult to tell our story," Massey stressed. 

A story that, no matter how difficult, deserves to be told.