Tampa’s Magical Mutual Aid History

And the tragedy of assimilation…

Photographer unknown; an image of several brick buildings in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida.

CW: racism, cisheterosexism, gendered violence, slavery, segregation, lynching, assimilation, xenophobia; outdated terminology is used to describe certain things for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the time; i am not a historian but researched well. any historical errors? let me know — they are unintentional, if so.

I use the phrase “Latino Cubans” even though it may not have been common place in the time. This is because there were both Black Cubans and Cubans who now might be identified as Latino. Because Black Cubans are often erased from Tampa history, I felt it was very important to acknowledge both groups.

I write this as the truth as I know it — it deals with uncomfortable facts, including racism and assimilation. The truth of our magnificent and glorious history must include the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is not meant as criticisms of any groups — and no group is a monolith in thought or idea. Acknowledging the truth, even the ugly truth, is necessary when discussing historical events — even and especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Social justice, as we now know it, has a rich history in our City. The Cuban exiles found themselves quite in awe over a publication based out of New York, La Doctrina de New York, edited by Black Cuban activist Rafael Serra, who embodied the work of Jose Marti, a fighter for Cuban independence killed in the battlefield as the island sought for its freedom from the rule of Spain. In the gaze of the excitement, right here, in Port Tampa, it was February 10, 1897. Former anarchist organizer and now the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Guillermo Sorondo, a Black Cuban, was chairing a meeting when the resolution passed that the Tampa community must not let this publication fail and that it is the only publication that so clearly keeps the values of José Martí alive, they must financially contribute to its success. [1]

An image of Cuban Revolutionary, Jose Marti. Via José Martí — History and Biography (history-biography.com)

The rich history of the cigar industry dates back to a time when Cuba was resisting the rule of the Spanish government. Having recently abolished the abhorrent tragedy of slavery, the newly freed Black Cubans would join the working class and Cuban’s rich elite became part of the urban middle class. Dependency on the United States, who began investing capital into Cuban economies, however, began to form and uncertainty grew as then United States Secretary of State James G. Blaine declares desire for the Cuban land to belong to the United States, an effort to keep European control down. [2]

An image of former United States Secretary of State James G. Blaine, via Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: cwpbh-03708)

Concern for the working class arose, and the Cuban residents formed the first official labor organization, the Cigar Makers Guild, in 1878. [2]

In December of 1881, Secretary Blaine writes: “That rich island is the key to the Gulf of Mexico, is, though in the hands of Spain, a part of the American commercial system…If ever ceasing to be Spanish, Cuba must necessarily become American and not fall under any other European domination.” [2]]

The gift of the pen would find Martí unleashing his ideas to the world in ways that ignited a fury. In the heat of the Ten Years War for Cuban Independence, a young Martí found himself writing about independence, which led to a deportation and exile to Spain in 1868. The time in Spain proved useful to Marti who graduated with a law degree focusing on Civil Rights and began traveling to different areas of the world. [3]

A return to Cuba in 1878 was relatively brief when he is once again accused of trying to overthrow the government (he was), so back to Spain he went. This time, however, he decided to come to New York City. [3]

On January 1, 1891, Marti published an essay, “Nuestra America”. The words sent a shockwave of inspiration across Cuban exiles throughout the Americas. Through his passages came connection and on November 26, 1891, the Cuban immigrants of Ybor City hosted Marti at Club Ignacio Agramonte to celebrate and fundraise for Cuban independence. [4]

There he delivered a speech which roughly translates to “With everyone and for the good of all”. The power wave of oration moved so many Cuban exiles of the Ybor City community into action, ready to unify for one common cause: liberty. [5]

That passion, that speech, that power: that is why the Cuban Revolutionary Party felt so strongly a need to protect his words through the publication. Tampa leadership was different than that of other Cuban exile groups. Tampa had a stronger vision, one based on mutual aid and socialism. Ramon Rivero was one such leader, who migrated up from Key West, he served as the lector to the Martinez Ybor factory, where he read to the cigar workers as they labored. His publication, La Revista de Florida, impassionately supported the effort for a better socio-economic status. La Revista de Florida touted, in 1889, “The banner of socialism is our banner: It means: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. It means equality, and the recovery of honor. There is not one among us who is not a convinced socialist, visionary men, who understand the times, and we prepare as one body to assure the future following the only road our conscience allows.” But yet, we would be remiss to say the entirety of the Cuban Revolutionary Party had only come to existence because of the radical teachings of Marti, that acknowledged a struggle of class, a struggle of race, and a struggle of independence to be intertwined. Marti’s unification brought forth the unified Cuban activist front and built a movement of change. [5]

Image of a bust of Jose’ Marti, found outside of the Cuban Club in Ybor. Via File:Jose marti in ybor.JPG — Wikipedia

Marti’s unification brought forth solidarity in ways never seen before, and on July 19th, 1892, Marti, along with other leaders, visited the cigar factories. They visited the Black Cuban led clubs. The next morning, a visit to the Martinez Ybor cigar factory was met with a thunderous applause and noted to be a mixed crowd: Americans, Cubans, Italians all together, cheering for unity, and crying for the dream of liberty. [5]

The Cuban Revolutionary Party developed, for the first time, Cuban exiles of all sects organizing for one common cause. A march across town was declared as a march for “the unity of the oppressed, of the disinherited, of all free men.” Today, such marches are met with irate disdain and organizers and attendees are discarded as snowflakes and troublesome. But then, it brought forth a sense of peace and prosperity in Tampa’s marginalized area of town. Reports say, ““Spaniards and Cubans, glorious military figures and prominent emigrés, distinguished journalists and eminent public men, whites and blacks, poor and rich, all spoke on that memorable night with accents of truth.” [5]

What could be so wrong about something so beautiful? Isn’t unity the story we preach?

Marti had a passion for humanity. He knew the Cuban identity was of its own and that it did not belong to Spanish colonialism. He abhorred slavery and knew the racial harmony could only come with solidarity. His death in 1895 did not end the fight and the Cuban Revolutionary Party continued to build. Marti is largely credited with many fundamental roles in making the fight for Cuban independence a success. While he may have been fundamental in this role in unifying, the takeaway from this story is not the words of one man but the actions of a unified community, fighting for a shared goal of freedom. A fight for everyone instead of a battle for wealth, greed, and imperialism. Interdependence, and not independence, builds power. When we connect with one another, and when we build, a government is accountable to us, not the other way around. [5]

“For years the old Italians have been dying

all over America.

For years the old Italians in faded felt hats

have been sunning themselves and dying . . .

The old anarchists reading UUmanita Nuova

The ones who loved Sacco & Vanzetti

They are almost all gone now . . .

In Little Italies all over America

The old dead dagos

hauled out in the morning sun

That does not mourn for anyone .. .”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ‘The Old Italians Dying”

The Italian Club in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. Image via Italian Club Ybor — L’Unione Italiana — Wikipedia

Cubans were not the only ones to have such a revolutionary spirit. You can’t embrace Historic Ybor City without walking through the ground of the Italian revolutionaries that made it happen. Joe Maniscalco came to Ybor City in 1910, at a time where people sang in the streets, everyone was like a family, but those days, he mourns, are long gone. Picture it, Sicily, 1891. [7]

Fasci Siciliani meant “Sicilian Bundles” and was a radical response to unrest in Sicily’s working class. Sicilians had long supported each other through mutual aid societies that supported worker’s rights and the empowerment of the everyday Sicilian. In 1891, Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida organized the first Fasci Siciliani in Catania and it later grew to Palermo. Existing mutual aid societies folded and decided to join ranks with the Fasci Siciliani instead, with a dream of bringing unity and socialism across the island. By 1892 all regions in Sicily, except one, had a Fasci Siciliani branch. Fasci Siciliani brought Sicilians in of all types, varying ages and did not discriminate based on sex. The Italian government, which had overtaken a once independent Sicily, had stolen land rights from rural Sicilian farmers and rendered them into ruins. Land equated to their wealth and the Sicilian people wanted their rightful land back. [8]

Drawings of the Fasci Siciliani movement on the Island of Sicily. Image via Fasci Siciliani — Fasci Siciliani — Wikipedia

With the combined power of the Fasci Siciliani, they made their move. On January 20, 1893, Sicilians gathered and began working the land that now belonged to the City of Caltavuturo. The Sicilians said the land belonged to them and they were tired of the low wages and lack of ability to prosper. When Italian soldiers tried to force them off, the Sicilians taunted them with whistles and defiance. They were met with gunfire and thirteen Sicilians were murdered by the government. [8]

This ignited natural outrage and the Fasci Siciliani began organizing harder than ever, educating themselves on their rights and freedoms, and learning how to strike and protest. A fight for higher wages, lower rent, and reappropriation of common lands ensued and it gained enough traction to attract the Italian military’s full attention. Unfortunately, the movement was short-lived, when in 1894, the Italian government charged a number of Sicilians with conspiracy and rioting, jailing them without even as much as a trial. But the movement does not end there…[8]

Angelo Massari can remember the Italian bankruptcy and the violent suppression of the fasci movement as the eighteen year old celebrated the land known as Ybor City. Giuseppina Spoto bemoaned a visit back to her homeland after having experienced the joys of Ybor City. No one starved, and no one suffered. Everyone had a piece of the pie. The contadini (regular working folks) were tired of the oppression of their government and after their movements had been dismantled, perhaps, there was more to offer in Ybor City. [8]

Sicilians would find Ybor City to become a place of refuge, evacuating from New Orleans after what became known as the “Mafia Riot”. When eleven Sicilian men were executed by the state, despite having been exonerated by a jury, for the death of Police Chief David Hennesy, Sicilians knew that the Anglo population of New Orleans were a threat to their safety. As such, many such Sicilians migrated to Florida, and found mutual aid societies to prosper within Ybor City. [9]

Newspaper clipping from New Orleans, stating “demons loose in new orleans” in reference to the Sicilian population. Image via Grand Voyage Italy.

It would not be long before Ybor City, however, lost the sense of safety the Sicilians had grown to adore. Angelo Albano and Castenge Ficarotta found themselves on the wrong side of the law when an accountant for the Bustillo Brothers and Diaz Cigar Company wound up dead. The Tampa Morning Tribune reported the story where the arresting officers reported that while taking the defendants to the county jail through the route of Howard Avenue, they were stopped by a crowd who seized Albano and Ficarotta and disappeared into the night. Both men were accused of being part of the “Black Hand” Mafia and upon the feet of their dead hanging bodies read a warning: “BEWARE Others take notice or go the same way. We know seven more. We are watching you. If any more citizens are molested, look at our Justice!” [10]

Newspaper clipping about the lynching in Tampa, via Newspapers.com

The timing could not have been more pertinent. At the time, Black Cubans and Sicilians had banded together for quite a strike that had rippled through Tampa’s economy. The workers demanding fair wages had found an enemy in James “Frank” Easterling, the bookkeeper, known for hiring strikebreakers and as such, Albano and Ficarotta faced the lynching for their murder, despite never having been tried. Although Easterling was now dead, the City knew that the lynching of these two men would give Black Cubans and the Sicilians the message they needed to receive. What was it about unity that had scared them so much? [11]

How can we walk through the beauty of Ybor and watch as the Tampa Police Department harass and displace the houseless, ridicule the poor Black residents, and then glamorize the unity of Ybor? To displace the most marginalized is antithesis to the magic that made Ybor City and all of West Tampa.

Built-up over time by Latino Cubans, Black Cubans, and Sicilians, Anglo Tampa had no interest in providing anything to Ybor City. Ybor City would eventually form its own mutual aid societies out of a need. Since the Anglo Tampa majority would not have any part in the Latin Tampa’s development, the activists that today we would call snowflakes made it happen on their own. [13]

Ignacio Haya served as the first President of Centro Espanol, the first mutual aid society to open its doors in Ybor City in 1891. “In those days, the club was all we had.” said Frank Juan. The club provided benefits for a small contribution of 25 cents per week. Death and injury benefits designed to protect families if their income was disrupted was one such benefit and as the club grew, classrooms, dance halls, and a clubhouse came to be, bringing a displaced community a sense of mutual belonging. [13]

The Late Ignacio Haya, image via Ybor City’s newest hotel honors one of its forgotten founding fathers (fox13news.com)

At one time, Latino Cubans and Black Cubans experienced a period of general unity, which was thanks to the work of Jose Marti. Jose Ramon Sanfeliz, a Black Cuban, can be remembered saying, “as composed of white and black members — a sort of rice with black beans. There was no distinction of race. When the Círculo Cubano was formed, however, the Negroes were left out.” as he founded the Club Nacional Cubano in 1899. Unlike the Circulo Cubano, the Club Nacional Cubano did not believe that racial segregation was appropriate for the advancement of the Cuban immigrant population. [13]

This, however, did not appease Anglo Tampa’s leanings. As the 1890’s erupted in post-reconstruction racial politics in the South, the formation of Jim Crow laws brought the City of Tampa into the shameful era of segregation. Anglo Tampa found itself at odds with Ybor City and West Tampa’s fluidity in their racial relationships. While North Tampa and South Tampa found itself designating sections for “White” and another for “Colored”, Ybor did no such thing at the time. Black Cuban resident Alfonso Diaz once said, “In Ybor City, you’d live with an Italian on one side, a Spaniard and a Cuban on the other side.” Likewise, Black Cuban Juan Mallea recalled, “The Caltagirones, Scagliones, the Martinos all these people lived across from us. There was no such thing as a white section and a black section. The only time you encountered discrimination was when you left Ybor.” [13]

But how could a budding Jim Crow era City sustain some sort of racial unity that was not found to exist within the boundaries of the dominant City? The promise of whiteness and the prodding of the state capital took the once racially unified Cuban history of Ybor and formed an Anglicized directed call for segregation. Disunity brings benefit to dominant structures after all. [13]

Thus, Anglo Tampa destroyed the Black Cuban and Latino Cubans solidarity with their tactics and propaganda. The turn of the century would see the formation of clubs dedicated for displaced Black Cubans and the end to the racial harmony that Mallea had once admired. “The government [state and local] told them [Cubans] we could not work together, have a society together, and would have to keep the races apart. That was the law of the country. So we blacks decided to build our own club.” [13]

Thus, La Sociedad de Libre Pensadores de Martí Maceo was born. Naturally, Marti was dedicated to Jose Marti. Antonio Maceo was the other dedication, a Black general who also died in the battlefields for Cuban independence. This group later merged with La Union in 1907 and became La Union Marti-Maceo, a place for Black Cubans to thrive with a community center and dance hall. But another unique benefit included health care services and economic assistance in a time long before the government would ever dream of assisting anyone who was Black. The club had it all, even developing a school where children could continue to learn their heritage, and where the elders could learn English. [13]

In April of 1894, L’Unione Italiana was founded with a force of Sicilian immigrants seeking prosperity. Bartolomeo Filogamo served as the first President of the society and its original purpose of the society by-laws said: “”to aid such members of said association as may become sick and to provide for the paying of the burial expenses of such members as may die, and to promote fraternity, charity and social intercourse among its members. This society is founded exclusively by Italians… but it permitted “social members of other groups….as long as they were of good moral standing and aged between fourteen and fifty.” [13]

Through this time, Ybor City was dominated by membership to these societies, with 90% of Ybor’s population belonging to a membership to at least one organization. It was so important to the culture of these early immigrants, who knew it was a place for them to thrive. The club offered death benefits and provided funeral and bereavement services to its members. Italians visited the club at all hours of the night to party, eat, and dance with their neighbors. It was a thrilling time. Joe Maniscalco remembers referring to it “as paradise!” [13]

The right to medical care was of a great passion for the Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants. “They’re dying like flies,” Fernando Pendos can recall of early Ybor immigrants. In 1903, Centro Asturiano turned the Saint James Hotel into a hospital designed to serve its members, which included X-rays, a clinic, and pharmacy on site. It was staffed entirely with Cuban and Spanish immigrant personnel, bringing jobs that otherwise were absent. To keep membership within its own society, Centro Espanol opened its own hospital in 1906 in the Bayshore area, which continued to serve for 30 years. At the time, Ybor society members found themselves in a position to receive the highest quality care in Tampa, far exceeding the care you would find in Anglo Tampa. After all, the Tampa Municipal Hospital (now Tampa General Hospital) was just an abandoned courthouse until 1910. Even still, though, Tampa Municipal Hospital only served Anglo Tampa, excluding Black residents from receiving medical care. [13]

Where Blake High School stands, in the heart of “Colored Tampa”, Clara Frye opened the first Black hospital in the City. This was as a result of her anger in the fact that a Black woman who had been shot was refused service to receive a life-saving surgery in the white hospitals. Frye was a nurse and she originally opened her home to Black patients before establishing the official Clara Frye Negro Hospital in 1923. Fyre was the daughter of a Black man and a white woman, then known as “Mulatto”, and found the status of racial segregation in Tampa to be quite repulsive. A member of the working class once again providing aid others in the working class, a mutuality, all based on a connection. Frye was a powerful force and lobbied the City to fight for Black people, an unpopular fight then and unfortunately, an unpopular fight now. [12]

Clara Frye, a painting. Image via Clara C. Frye — Florida Women’s Hall of Fame (flwomenshalloffame.org)

Tampa may like to play that it has been a beacon of racial unity since its inception, but the truth is, that was only true in Ybor and in the Black communities of Tampa, and only before the interference of the Anglo interests.

Tampa General Hospital did not begin accepting Black patients until the 1950’s.

Clara Frye’s original hospital on Lamar St, image via USF Photo Libraries

The creation of mutual aid society based hospitals did not go unnoticed by Anglo Tampa, however. The Hillsborough County Medical Society, in fact, had quite a bit to say about the matter. Does any of this sound familiar by chance?

“Socialistic”

“Un-American”

“Radical” [13]

Three buzz words designed to instill a fear into the American people. Fear has been the driving unifier of hate for white Americans since the inception of this country on the stolen land. The Hillsborough County Medical Society quickly banished medical professionals from working in these hospitals and created a “blacklist” [for lack of a better term] of sorts, calling out doctors and nurses who dared defy such orders. Despite the oppositions, these mutual aid hospitals continued to grow with the Cuban hospitals eventually admitting Italian members into their hospitals as well. Throughout World War II, the medical benefits of these mutual aid societies served as a staple to their very survival. [13]

We have to ask ourselves quite plainly why the City of Tampa, and frankly the United States itself, fears racial unity so ardently. Why does it fear class unity so ardently? Who stands to gain from our ultimate separation? If Dr. Martin Luther King had not been murdered in 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign might have radically shifted the class and race structure in our society, which instead was destroyed by the racist, classist, and ableist war on drugs, which began to hit the White House’s agenda in 1970. This is by no accident.

We can vilify protesters and activists and say they are disruptive instigators with an out of this City agenda, but the reality is, protest and mutual aid are as core to Tampa’s history as lightning bolts. In June 1904, Black Tampa residents protested the City’s decision to segregate the street cars, a common mode of transportation at the time. Black passengers resisted the idea of now suddenly being forced to the back when previously they could sit where they pleased. Conductors struggled to make it happen, but the City residents were sure it would kick in. The Seventh Avenue station in Ybor had not yet adopted this rule, but the majority of the City’s street cars gradually became segregated by force of law. [14]

Black and white capture of Tampa’s famous street cars via Tampa Bay Times.

Today, it is our default to associate the Black areas of town with crime, poverty, and as “the bad parts of town”. The casual racism allows us to feel as though our concern is geographical, rather than racial. The reality is, these conditions are manufactured, and it is by no accident. You might have imagined that Tampa’s Black community always suffered in poor economic conditions. Make no mistakes, the outrageous oppression of Black Tampa always hurt and took lives, but at one time, Black Tampa had radically different conditions. When A Study of Negro Life in Tampa came out, it depicted poverty and decay as the image of life in Black Tampa in 1927. However, such depictions do not necessarily paint a picture of Black Tampa prior to that time. Of course, poverty and decay existed in Black Tampa, by all means, but it wasn’t the image you might have imagined. [15]

An image of the type-written “A Study of Negro Life in Tampa” March 8-April 18, 1927. Image via Florida Memory. You can find other images of this document here: Florida Memory • A Study of Negro Life in Tampa, Typescript, 1927

The Cigar Industry would be a natural attraction for West Indian Black people trying to make their move in a thriving environment. James Rogers moved from Key West to become a cigar maker, while his wife, Marion, sold pastries on the side to gain extra income. Both were staunch believers in Black pride, an image that seems to provoke fear in many white Americans even today, and they refused to believe that poverty conditions were the only conditions available to Black people. This is why Marion Rogers with the help of Christina Meacham founded one of the earliest National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to be found in the South in the mid-1910s. Black churches began to populate the streets and through these churches, Black Tampa residents found community and provided mutual support to one another, in a neighborly way often dreamt of as being part of a distant past. [15]

By 1927, an area of town known as “The Scrub” had a downtrodden reputation. It was a Black residency area in segregated main Tampa, but prior to its reputation in 1927, the white Tampa Journal reported in 1887 their surprise about how many of “them” owned their own homes and how they had their own clubs and societies, but most importantly, how they maintained a sense of harmony in the community. The Scrub’s main street is beautiful Central Avenue, at one time a beacon of Black prosperity in the City, though so few of us would know that if we did not look for it. [15]

As Jim Crow began to migrate to Ybor City, and the Latino Cubans pushed out their Black brethren, many Black Cubans found acceptance on Central Avenue. This prosperity was something that could be enjoyed by Black Cubans who had deflected from the Spanish rule, as well as newly freed Black Americans. The Scrub was an affectionate title they had given themselves, and in a reconstruction of Tampa, these individuals built a vibrant business life and a cultural congregation for Black people to find community in, very much similar to the mutual aid communities in Ybor. [15]

Whereas much of Black Tampa resides in oft-forgotten food desserts, the Scrub offered a different atmosphere. Facing discrimination in every facet of life, Black people formed grocery stores, restaurants, schools, dance clubs, theaters, and professional offices. Black educators, accountants, attorneys and other prominent business people laid the foundation to providing prosperity within the community. While a Black child could never buy a banana split in the confines of Anglo Tampa, on Central Avenue the sweet treat was a staple for Black enjoyment. Because of how accessible the Central Avenue district was, the Scrub became the center of Black employment, with jobs providing much needed economic stability throughout the Scrub. The Scrub even had the only hotel Black people could stay at, inviting Black people to safely visit Tampa when they needed to travel. [16]

Perry Harvey Sr was one such creative force behind the success in the economics of The Scrub. Knowing that Anglo Tampa wasn’t going to lift a finger, Harvey knew they had to do their own fundraising. That is why he founded the Tampa chapter of the dock worker union the International Longshoremen’s Association, which worked to empower and provide resources to dock workers often denied access to education. Neighbors worked in a cooperative way, providing one another with resources, food, money, or services to sustain themselves. This mutuality worked for so many years and is central to the thriving of the Scrub. [16]

Perry Harvey Sr. Image via ABC Action News, Perry Harvey Sr. instrumental in fighting for Black longshoremen (abcactionnews.com)

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black Tampa had the freedom to travel to any place of business without restriction, but unfortunately, the construction of Interstate 4 would lead to the demise of this once vibrant community. The economic downturn of the 1960’s would later see the end of the Scrub, as racism exploded and poverty mounted, police came with riot squads and the Scrub’s destruction was never prioritized or repaired by the City. [16]

The Cotton Club, which was demolished in 1974, was the last vestige of the once vibrant Scrub. [16]

Today, they have us convinced that assimilation into the Western ideals of independence is priority, that money defines your value, and that your success is the determination of the needs you will have met. They will convince you that people who live in poverty do so because of bad choices they made, but it seems unlikely for anyone to ever acknowledge the systemic issues within our society’s management.

Eastern European Jewish people are a class of Europeans of a Jewish ethnicity. Like Italians and Sicilians, many Eastern European Jewishs were similar in skin tone to those in Anglo Tampa, but were not welcome into those worlds at the time. Emaline Quentz Miley and her husband Bill brought some Euro-Jewish culture to Odessa, becoming the first Euro-Jewish residents in Hillsborough County in 1844. Among the Civil War, Euro-Jewish residents began arriving in Tampa to open produce stands, general stores, lumber mills, and even oyster bars. Despite the Anti-Semitism they faced, many early Euro-Jewish residents found prosperity in their networks, and some even served in public office in Hillsborough County. [17]

Image of Emaline Quentz Miley, via New book chronicles Tampa Jewish history — Jewish Press of Pinellas County (jewishpresspinellas.com)

Abe and Isaac Maas opened the Maas Brothers Department Store in 1886, which became wildly successful. The store remained a staple in Tampa until 1991 when it merged with Burdine’s. In 1890, with the Jewish community thriving, more immigration occurred, and Tampa opened its first synagogue, “Congregation Shaarai Zedek”. As a result of the congregation, the first Jewish social organization in Tampa came to be, and a Jewish cemetery was also created. [17]

Later on, Euro-Jewish immigrants would find a home in Ybor City, with Jewish businesses popping up left and right, among the ethnically diverse Sicilian and Cuban businesses. The last Jewish based business to survive was Max Argintar Menswear, founded in 1908, and closing in 2004. [18]

An image of Max Argintar Men’s Wear in Tampa, via Exploring Tampa’s Jewish history (lakerlutznews.com)

We bring our Euro-Jewish immigrants into another commonality. The cigar industry was a place for the displaced. While Jewish people began to worry about the impact of anti-Jewish quotas, they found an opportunity to thrive within the cigar industry that housed the City’s hardest workers. [18]

The 1950’s brought a time of civil unrest caused by white people’s resistance to desegregation. One of the most prominent anti-integrationists was Tampa’s own Ku Klux Klan leader Bill Hendrix. Hendrix believes that Jewish people were the whole reason integration was even a subject, believing they had plans to destroy the American way. Hendrix attended a conference in 1957 with the intent of determining how to fight back against both Black people and Jewish people. One unidentified speaker at the meeting was quoted as having said: “a Jew is white on the outside and black on the inside…we’ve got to deprive him of his voting rights. We’ve got to segregate him to the same second-class citizenship that the [anti-Black racial slur] thinks he has but don’t really have.” [18]

Like the other immigrants and the newly freed Black residents, Jewish residents formed mutual aid societies to provide support, growth, and even opened up a short-lived Hebrew school right here in Tampa in the late 1910’s. [18]

The image of anyone other than Anglo Tampa thriving has been the image of Tampa since its inception. In fact, Anglo Tampa took this matter into their own hands, with their own type of society. You’ll never hear this in your average run-of-the-mill Tampa history lesson.

The fear of the engaged Black voter ignited a fury in 1908 when dominant Tampa residents formed a new political party: the White Municipal Party. Just as it sounds, the party excluded Black voters and catered to a vision of a white Tampa. In 1910, the Tampa Morning Tribune rejoiced: that the candidates for the first time, did not have to “go down into the dives of the ‘Scrub’ to hobnob with the festive colored brother on his own ground, to ‘fight the devil with fire’ by resorting to money, used in the most shameful way, as a means of securing the bulk of the Negro vote.” [19]

An image of a ballot from Tampa’s shameful White Municipal Party, thanks to Linda Martin, via Tampa Bay Times Odessa woman finds ballots inside 115-year-old ballot box used for home decor (tampabay.com)

When the Anglo Tampa elite began to complain about the cost of running the party, they could not blame the Black voter anymore, since they had effectively excluded them. They needed another scapegoat. The reason they could not win over votes now was due to the “dirty money” in the underground crime world of an ethnic Ybor City, they would claim. It was reported once in the paper that corrupt elections were the cause: “The establishment of great cigar factories in Tampa brought to the city thousands of Spaniards, Cubans and Italians. Many of these were, and are, inoffensive, but hundreds were natural criminals. They had no respect for law and order.” [19]

The White Municipal Party ran the City’s electorate from 1910 until its dissolution in 1947, with the final Mayor to represent the white supremacist party being Curtis Hixon, who now has a park named in his honor in our City. In fact, in 1955, Curtis Hixon was challenged for the seat of Mayor by Nick Nuccio, a man of Sicilian ethnicity residing in historic Ybor, but Curtis Hixon defeated him by 9,000 votes, in part due to a hit piece written by a reporter that connected Nick Nuccio to the Mafia, a common anti-Sicilian slam that incited fear into Anglo Tampa. Nick Nuccio would eventually win the seat of Mayor, and is noted as the First Latin Mayor of Tampa. He was notorious for how differently he ran the City, spending the majority of his day patronizing Tampa businesses and speaking with people in the park and spending the end of the day closing up business in the Mayor’s office. This is because Nick Nuccio’s heart was where the people were, a vision that has long been lost in our City. [20]

Nick Nuccio, a Sicilian American and the first Latin Mayor of Tampa. Image via Wikipedia

Amidst the lavender scares of the 1950’s, gay men, lesbian women, bi folks, gender variant and transgender people, and anyone perceived as queer in any way were subjected to vicious attacks, loss of jobs, public humiliation, and removal from college and university campuses.

The Knotty Pine opened its doors in the 1940’s on Polk and Morgan, but police raids were not uncommon. When the police opened the doors, men stopped dancing with men, and found women to dance with, and vice versa. But who were they hurting? [21]

At the bar Knotty Pine, we see a queer/gendernonconforming person winning the Halloween Drag contest, in 1951. Via Knotty Pine Bar Winner Halloween, 1951 — Digital Transgender Archive

Despite the oppression by Tampa Police, the Knotty Pine continued to manage itself, and in 1951, it conducted a Drag Halloween party, with its winner proudly holding up a bottle and posing, in what appears to be a man in a dress (but maybe they were a transgender woman; we can’t know as the language was often unavailable). Regardless, they defied the gender norms that society pushed upon them. It was a safer space for queer people to exist. [22]

Sadly, Carl DeLong Jr, who was only 26, would last be seen alive at the Knotty Pine. He was found beaten severely and unconscious in 1956 on Riverhills Drive, dying a month later from the injuries. His murder remains unsolved, and unfortunately served as a catalyst for Tampa Police Department to ramp up their anti-gay raids. Jimmy’s White Tavern would be one such bar to face a raid. Like Knotty Pines, the rules of gender were allowed to be bent, and people of varying gender identities were able to enjoy their time in this space. [23] [24]

Newspaper clipping of the murder of gay man, Carl DeLong, in Tampa. Via Newspapers.com

The raid on the bar did not result in any arrests, but twelve lesbian women (or possibly some may have been transgender men) were photographed and fingerprinted for wearing “men’s clothing”. [23]

What a ridiculous use of resources, don’t you think?

Raids such as these are not relics of a distant past, but rather, they continued until the 1990’s. The racist war on drugs was used to justify it as narcotics busts, and gay bars in Tampa continued to experience “drug busts” in the 1990’s, even when there were no reports of drugs on the premises. [23]

Eventually, Gay Tampa found a place in Historic Ybor City. What a perfect place; a history built by the displaced now becoming home to yet another displaced group of people just trying to live their lives.

In the early 2000s, Ybor City became a gay island, which meant it was silo’d to poor gay, queer and transgender people. This was because Ybor had grown to become a home for the nightlife popularized by gay and transgender performers, artists, musicians, and more. This includes a number of gay, queer and transgender members of the Black and Latino communities. A mutual aid society of sorts existed at the time, the GayBor Coalition, to help LGBTQ businesses and workers thrive. Once again, the concept of mutuality brought together a group of people destined to be displaced by dominant society.

GaYBOR District logo, found via More info on business in Downtown Tampa & Ybor City Florida (discoverintown.com)

Today, the City is not run by the people. It is run by the elite. Our City Council answer to the police unions, developers, and the rich. Whereas Bayshore, Tampa Palms, and Hyde Park remain thriving, people are going without their basic needs throughout East and West Tampa.

Anglo Tampa had very vested interest to divide people. They knew that a united front of the working class, immigrants of different ethnicities would not work favorably for their interests. They did everything in their power to make sure these groups did not thrive.

Although the language used is different and the tools they use to make it happen is different, take a look at our displaced communities. Once they had the ability to thrive with mutuality, now they are concentrated into poor areas, with minimal transportation, lack of grocery stores, and no one that cares.

City Council cannot be bothered, and the Mayor doesn’t care either. They won’t be moved to care either.

We must release the trap of division and understand our power lies within our unity. Unity is not an evil word, nor is socialism.

If you have read through this and still do not see the magic of mutual aid, then we cannot be sure you ever will. This doesn’t even touch on every amazing contribution, such as our disabled history, our Asian history, our Muslim history, and so much more that I have not explored yet, but I certainly will one day. Further, there is much to explore about the Indigenous history of this land before the arrival of the Spanish and after.

Questions this leaves me with…

  1. What would Tampa look like if we truly sought to end the racism and considered economic reparations to Black Tampans, who have been displaced? How might economic reparations bring repair back to our City — benefiting everyone in Tampa overall?
  2. Racial unity existed in Historic Ybor and that is evidenced by the quotes of people who lived there. However, through time, that unity has waned. What might Tampa look like if all of us white Americans worked along side with, and under the leadership of, Black, Indigenous and Latine Tampans?
  3. How could economic prosperity brought on by mutual aid, non-for-profit hospitals, group health, life and dental insurance, free educational classes, language classes, financial classes and the like bring better outcomes to Tampa? If they could do it back then, why not now?
  4. How could Tampa Sicilian and Latino Cuban communities come together and commit to de-assimilation? How can we look at our roots and examine the purpose of mutual aid and the original revolution? How can we bring repair and healing to those our assimilation has caused harm to and left behind?

References

[1] https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1183&context=tampabayhistory

[2] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Cuba#The_16th%E2%80%9318th_centuries:_Cuba_under_attack]

[3] https://cuba50.org/2020/01/26/who-was-jose-marti-2/

[4] http://www.josemarti.cu/publicacion/nuestra-america-version-ingles/

[5] http://www.josemarti.cu/dossier/con-todos-y-para-el-bien-de-todos-unidad-justicia-y-estrategia-internacional-en-jose-marti/

[6] https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1183&context=tampabayhistory T

[7] https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00061999/00001

[8] https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/sicily-socialist-fasci-unite-workers-rights-italy-1893-1894

[9] https://themobmuseum.org/timeline_events/black-hand/

[10] http://www.westtampamurder.com/pdf/1910-09-21%20-%20Two%20Men%20Taken%20from%20Officers%20and%20Hanged.pdf

[11] https://books.google.com/books?id=_xX2WKoyfZEC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq=Angelo+Albano+and+Constanzo+Ficarotta&source=bl&ots=XYeBYyKFuT&sig=ACfU3U1f7-YEQVzQ0EI78_y6q31mZqiQXw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjz_-q-qtjtAhXv1FkKHRoGCCY4ChDoATACegQIARAC#v=onepage&q=Angelo%20Albano%20and%20Constanzo%20Ficarotta&f=false T (Page 61)

[12] (https://blackthen.com/clara-c-frye-established-the-clara-frye-hospital/)

[13] https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1180&context=tampabayhistory

[14] http://exhibits.lib.usf.edu/exhibits/show/civil-rights-in-tampa/african-american-experience/african-american-experience-1/

[15] https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1363&context=sunlandtribune

[16] https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=f2e94dc2fbd54eb89703de53504fef64

[17] https://lakerlutznews.com/lln/?p=51480

[18] https://www.jta.org/1957/04/15/archive/ku-klux-klan-resumes-anti-jewish-propaganda-in-florida

[19] https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1332&context=sunlandtribune

[20] https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00061999/00001

[21] https://www.tampabay.com/hillsborough/code-words-hiding-in-plain-sight-helped-gay-bars-in-tampa-endure-history-of-harassment-20190619/

[22] https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/hx11xf38w

[23] https://www.tampabay.com/hillsborough/code-words-hiding-in-plain-sight-helped-gay-bars-in-tampa-endure-history-of-harassment-20190619/

[24] https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/0k225b199.

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I’m not an expert or scholar on anything. I mainly write for me. If others see it, and love it, great :)

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Angel D’Angelo

I’m not an expert or scholar on anything. I mainly write for me. If others see it, and love it, great :)