A Robinson High School student who has been working with the Tampa Bay History Museum has captured a nearly forgotten slice of Tampa history: the Central Avenue business district circa 1931.
Mary Elizabeth Johnson, a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Robinson High School, will share her findings – in the form of an overlay map and interactive website – on Saturday, September 20, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Seminole Heights Public Library at 4711 N Central Ave. The public is invited to the free event.
Her research is based on old Sanborn Insurance Company maps and Tampa City Directories from 1924 and 1931. She identified many of the individuals who lived and worked in the 1000 through the 1600 blocks of Central Avenue’s American business and entertainment district some 80 years ago. In addition to dozens of Black-owned businesses, Central Avenue also hosted historic entertainers such as W. C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Hank Ballard and James Brown.
“Ray Charles recorded his first song and teens inspired The Twist dance (written by Ballard),” in the Central Avenue district, which was known as “Harlem of the south,” Johnson said.
The project supports the vision of the TBHC to educate the public about local history. In January, Johnson won the inaugural Dr. Frankye A. Berry Award for the best high school essay in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dreams Take Flight Contest. The contest was sponsored by Hillsborough County Public Schools.