TAMPA BAY, Fla — Teaching Black history in Florida schools has now become a topic of debate in our state, but one man in the Tampa Bay area is doing his part to make sure history is not lost in the community he serves.

What You Need To Know

The quiet tranquility of this space doesn’t go unnoticed by those who come to pay their respects. Especially those who know the profound history of the Oaklawn cemetery. Fred Hearns is one of those people. Born and raised in Tampa, he’s seen the area grow and change over the decades.

Attending grade school in historic East Tampa, he later studied at the University of South Florida and got a master’s degree in African Studies. All of that leading to a 32 year career with the City of Tampa as the Director of Community Affairs, eventually though retiring to take on a passion project.

“When I retired in 2007, that was the year I formed Fred Hearns Tours LLC and I’ve done over three hundred tours, primarily bus tours and walking tours, of black neighborhoods in Tampa,” Hearns said. 

His tour company and illustrious reputation eventually leading to his current gig, curator of black history at the Tampa Bay History Center, where he brought not only his knowledge of this role but also his unique tours. 

“Creating the tours and leading the tours has meant so much to me, because many years ago I realized there was so much incredible history all around us by African American people and we honestly knew so very little of it,” Hearns said. 

Now offering walking tours once a month at the Tampa Bay History Center. Tours that take guests to the area of Central Avenue West that at one point was known as the “Harlem of the South”.

It was founded during a post Civil War era and was almost one hundred percent populated by African Americans. Early in the 1900s many lived in poverty, but over the years the area changed and saw dozens of black-owned businesses set up shop in the area, creating a safe haven and community for Black people during a time of segregation. 

This area, once known as the “Harlem of the South” or “The Scrub” has drastically changed since these streets were filled with black-owned businesses. However, there are still remnants of the past.

One building, the St James Episcopal Church built in 1918, still stands in the heart of Central Avenue West and looks much the same as it did when it was built over one hundred years ago.  

Spots like St James make up the tours Hearns leads, showcasing the history of the area.

Walking through Perry Harvey Park with their unique art installations and strolling through Oaklawn Cemetery where the unmarked graves of previously enslaved people were laid to rest. 

Hearns taking all who want to learn and embrace this history on a journey through the past of Central Avenue West. 

“Every major accomplishment in this city has involved black people one way or another, so learning the history of this city and community was important to me, because when I grew up I didn’t learn much of this history living here and growing up here all of my life.” 

Each walking tour lasts 90 minutes with several stops in between, including where singer Ray Charles made his very first recording.

For more information on the tour head to their website here.