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Just a little Tampa history from Gary Mormino



Nine things worth noting -- maybe in visiting reporters' stories? -- plucked from the USF St. Pete history professor's book The Immigrant World of Ybor City:

1. By 1900 Tampa had become the leading manufacturing city in Florida. Its claim to that title rested not with its production of steel, automobiles, or shoes, but rather with cigars, millions of pure Havana cigars. By virtue of its industrial bookends of Ybor City and West Tampa, it stood as the leading center in the United States of high-quality, hand-rolled cigars. Tampa had become the celebrated "Smokeless City of Smokes," attracting thousands of immigrants, including Sicilian hill villagers, to its environs.

2. The character of Tampa's industry and the composition of its work force, however, shaped the city in distinctive ways. From the perspective of labor, social, and southern history, the city was an island; it boasted an impressive manufacturing plant located in an overwhelmingly agrarian state; its skilled industrial work force was comprised almost exclusively of immigrants who resided in a region dominated by southern white Protestants and Afro-Americans ...

3. Tampa owes its modern origins to the federal government's decision in 1824 to build a military cantonment, Fort Brooke, as a bulwark for south Florida. The fort evolved from a primitive beachhead into a crude community ...

4. One can never isolate Tampa from the Deep South, especially in terms of power structure -- the slave-holding cliques -- and Old South values. Slaves constituted one-third of Hillsborough County's population in the period 1840-60, and slavery also occupied an important niche in Tampa. When the Deep South seceded, white Tampans marched lockstep with the Confederacy.

5. The rise of the corporation signified a shift of power from family hands to new economic entities -- witness the transition of the Plant Investment Company to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company in 1902. National and international events affected the course of the city.

6. Tampans had always stressed the importance of the city's image. The rhetoric of boosterism that emanated from commercial and civic agencies since before the turn of the century was now unrestrained. ... By the 1920s boosterism reached feverish proportions as papers trumpeted the new Florida of good roads, designed communities, and leisure/tourism.

7. While boosterism attempted to mask class and racial divisiveness, Tampa's population growth steadily undermined those efforts.

8. Blacks in Tampa endured a well-drawn color line and abominable living conditions. White city residents rigidly enforced segregation until the early 1960s.

9. Tampa's business and professional elites sought a measure of social and political control that went beyond the elimination of blacks from meaningful participation in community affairs. They successfully integrated newly arrived whites from other states, allowed them selective access to the levels of power, and infused them with a vigorous booster mentality. By the turn of the century control of the city rested in the hands of a few dozen families for whom the protection of Tampa's image as a prosperous, trouble-free metropolis assumed major importance.

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