TAMPA, Fla. - Fred Hearns lived Tampa history years before the Tampa Bay History Center was built on the waterfront in Channelside.
"I came from a longshoreman’s background. My grandfather worked these docks," said Hearns, who has been a community activist and historian for years.
Now he’s the Tampa Bay History Center’s first Curator of Black History.
"It gives us an opportunity to tell that story to a lot more folks in the region, visitors as well as people who’ve lived here for a long time," said Hearns.
He says many people don’t know that, before 1970, Tampa’s Central Avenue was a thriving center of Black business and culture.
"I walked the streets of Central Avenue and I visited the shops and stores and clubs," said Hearns.
Everyone knew the big stars like Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, who came to Tampa during segregation and roomed at the Jackson House. But there were hundreds and maybe thousands of African Americans who were buried in cemeteries that were covered over and only now are being rediscovered.
"It goes to the legacy of racism and discrimination and the world we lived in when there were two Americas," said Hearns.
He says it was the divide between Black and white that followed people from crib to grave and we can learn from it.
"Because history is very instructive. With a good understanding of history you’ll be able to see the future much more clearly," saids Hearns.
His new job is a bit of history in itself. C.J. Roberts, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay History Center says more history centers and museums are adding diverse voices to their curation.
"I think we’re all trying to tell the stories of our entire community," he said.
Roberts says Hearns will play a major role in constructing a new Black History section at the history center as well as strengthening ties with the Black community.