It’s no secret that the staff at Tampa Bay History Center (TBHC) should be your first stop when trying to learn the background on any local landmark or event, but that staff just added another local history superstar to its ranks.
On Thursday, TBHC named longtime Tampeño, journalist, author and community advocate Fred Hearns as its Curator of Black History. Hearns has led more than 300 tours of historic Tampa neighborhoods, and will be tasked with joining existing TBHC staff—including Saunders Foundation Curator of Public History Dr. Brad Massey and Touchton Map Library Director Rodney Kite-Powell—as they not only assist with research on lost Black cemeteries, but also revamp part of the history center’s permanent exhibit galleries.
Hearns and Kite-Powell also recently discussed the history behind downtown Tampa’s Jackson House, but Hearns is no stranger to TBHC.
In 2004, then-mayor Pam Iorio appointed Hearns to represent the City of Tampa on the History Center’s Board of Trustees. He also played a part in making sure Black history was represented in the construction of the Riverwalk.
“I was thrilled that I got to have some input into how the history of Black people in Tampa should be reflected and honored,” Hearns—who arrived from the Bronx before growing up in East Tampa—wrote in a press release.
Hearns’s community work includes leading a charge to restore his alma mater, Middleton High School, and build both the 78th Street Community Library and a new Robert W. Saunders Public Library.
He eventually retired as director of the Department of Community Affairs under Iorio in 2007 after a 32-year run, but not before weighing in to make sure that projects like Encore Housing development and Perry Harvey Park honored Black history.
Hearns will pause his doctorate work at the University of South Florida, where he holds one of his two master's degrees, but USF’s loss is the entire community’s gain.
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