1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

Epilogue: Otis Anthony, a civil rights leader and radio host, kept the conversation alive

On Friday, Mr. Anthony died. He was 68.
Otis Anthony started the Black History Research Project of Tampa in 1978. [Times (2008)]
Published Nov. 11
Updated Nov. 11

Otis Anthony believed in the power of stories.

You can hear it in his voice. The way he loses his train of thought when another, better anecdote comes to mind. The sharpness with which he recalls details about bit players in his life: friends, teachers, bosses. The fact that you can hear his story at all.

In 42 minutes that live on the Hillsborough County Public Library’s website, you can hardly hear him take a breath as he recounts his life in Tampa as an organizer, historian and civil rights leader.

Otis Anthony recorded his story in 2014.

On Friday, Mr. Anthony died. He was 68.

It’s not just his story he recorded for posterity. In the late 1970s, Mr. Anthony and a team of eight researchers recorded the memories of dozens of black residents into the Black History Research Project of Tampa. They shared stories of their lives growing up through segregation, sit-ins and the struggle for equality.

It is, even today, a not-too-distant era. Take Mr. Anthony. Born on August 7, 1951, he grew up in public housing across from what is today Howard W. Blake High School. He went to segregated schools, and grew up in segregated housing.

His parents, Bernice and Otis Sr., struggled to provide for Mr. Anthony and his eight brothers and sisters. But in the recorded interview about his life, Mr. Anthony remembered a happy childhood: Even though he had to tie rubber bands around his socks to keep them from falling around his ankles, a young Otis loved to dance.

He was always a visible figure around his community. When the school board threatened to close Mr. Anthony’s high school, Blake, which was then an all-black institution, the young leader made a passionate speech at a city march.

He’d learned public speaking at church, and he’d continue to do it the rest of his life. He was a man just as likely to perform poetry at an open mike night as he was to talk politics.

When Mr. Anthony moved on from Blake to the University of South Florida, he remained an advocate for civil rights and black stories.

Carolyn Stewart, a veteran Tampa lawyer, went to school with a young Otis Anthony. She remembers a well-read, handsome young man who liked to play the “black philosopher” to other students. His doctrine was one of political action.

“It wasn’t about being violent, but it was about not being passive,” Stewart said.

In college, Mr. Anthony met a young woman, Gloria Butts, whom he eventually married. Mr. Anthony graduated from USF in 1973, and that same year, the two young professionals had a daughter together, Ashaki Anthony.

Although the marriage didn’t last, Gloria and Otis Anthony shared a passion for public service that they passed on to their daughter. They each graduated with Masters degrees through the National Urban Fellowship program. Eventually, so did Ashaki.

Ashaki Anthony, who’s now a project manager for the city of Atlanta, remembered her father’s love of spice. The way it brightened his dishes and brought out their best flavors.

“I had the coolest dad,” she said in an interview. “A lot of kids didn’t want their parents to come around. If there was a birthday or something, I wanted my dad there.”

After a brief stint away for graduate school and a government job in Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Anthony returned to Tampa in the 1980s. He took a job as the city’s solid waste director under Mayor Bob Martinez. After Martinez resigned to run for governor in 1986, Sandy Freedman completed his term and was twice elected mayor. She made Mr. Anthony an executive assistant.

“He was the closest we have ever had to an African-American mayor in the city of Tampa,” Hillsborough County NAACP president Yvette Lewis said in an interview.

The relationship between Mayor Freedman and Mr. Anthony eventually soured. After Freedman fired Mr. Anthony in 1994 for allegedly shirking his duties, he filed a complaint against her in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination. A judge eventually ruled that race was not a factor in Mr. Anthony’s firing. Freedman declined to comment for this story.

Mr. Anthony later told the then-St. Petersburg Times he remembered his time in Freedman’s office as “seven glorious years."

Mr. Anthony spent much of the rest of his career working with kids. He took jobs at the Hillsborough County and Polk County School Districts, and worked for a couple of years at Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

In 2013, ever a believer in the power of politics, he dabbled in campaign consulting with his firm, Anthony Community Consultant, Inc.

And, he hosted a radio show. Starting in 2002, he was a mainstay of WMNF-FM 88.5 Sunday mornings with his program, Sunday Forum, where he discussed local and national issues.

Whether he agreed with you or not, Otis Anthony lived for the discussion, said Walter Smith Jr., who eventually succeeded him as the show’s host. Smith recalled a piece of advice his mentor gave him before he handed over the reins.

“Brother, listen,” Smith remembered Mr. Anthony telling him, “You cannot have any blank air.”

Otis Anthony was no fan of blank air.


  1. A Brinks security guard and a Good Samaritan who came to his aid were shot during a robbery attempt at GTE Financial credit union in Brandon on Friday. Tony Marrero, Times Staff
    The search continued into the evening Saturday for the shooter, who is believed to be a serial bank robber.
  2. Lawanda Ravoira, DPA, president & CEO, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, said girls are subject to an alarming rate of violence and bullying and are not getting the help they need from counseling and other social services. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Times
    Leader of Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center comes to Tampa to warn of “unchecked crisis” of violence and victimization of middle and high school girls.
  3. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The motorcycle was headed south on Dale Mabry, while the northbound bus was making a turn.
  4. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The shooting happened on the 1600 block of E North Bay Street.
  5. "Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty?", Siomara Bridges-Mata, 32, asks her coworkers as they assemble one of 900 bikes Friday when Amalie Arena transformed into Santa's Bike Shop. Bridges-Mata volunteered with Frameworks of Tampa Bay, Inc. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times
    Local nonprofit Onbikes organizes the annual bike build to provide bicycles to kids in the community
  6. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) Tampa International Airport
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  7. Mayor Rick Kriseman on Wednesday said he will not allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore splitting their season between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal prior to the 2027 expiration of the team's lease of Tropicana Field. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    Politicians on both sides of the bay weigh in on St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s decision to cease talks with the team.
  8. Tampa police say the suspect who struck 58-year-old Denorris Singleton in the head with a baseball bat during a dispute on N 29th Street in East Tampa on Nov. 23 fled the scene in this white sedan. Singleton died from his injuries six days later. Tampa Police Department
    Denorris Singleton, 58, died six days after he was struck, police said.
  9. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has made climate change a priority in Tampa. On Friday, she joined a national mayoral group dedicated to tackling the issue. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa’s mayor joins St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman with high-profile post on the climate crisis.
  10. Noah Shaffer of Confidant Asset Management says the restaurant sector in the Tampa Bay area has done well in 2019 and to expect more openings in the coming months. Chick-fil-A Brandon South opened earlier this year.
    So far, the economy appears robust enough to support further expansion, says a local industry professional.