By Daphne Kotschessa Almodovar, University Communications and Marketing
A bountiful repository of local African American artifacts spanning more than 150 years provides a glimpse into the community’s lives, struggles and achievements in Tampa Bay. Rare books, personal papers, photographs and even property records are available in the USF Tampa campus library, the Nelson Poynter Library at USF St. Petersburg and online.
“Our libraries function as a cultural institution, preserving documents and artifacts that allow our community members to acquire knowledge from the past to inform the future,” said Andy Huse, curator of Florida Studies at the USF Library.
Resources from the African American History Collections are accessible to scholars, students and the public to support research, teaching and community partnerships. The collections consist of predominantly regional and state resources and include a variety of items such as newspapers, voting records and catalogs.
“The Special Collections fill in the gaps of history. With the help of library staff, I’ve found vast documentation relating to landmark events that allow me to piece together the context around the experience of living in Tampa and Florida in a way I could not find in other places,” said Stephanie Williams, political scientist and professor in the Judy Genshaft Honors College.
In contrast with museums, which typically focus on the visual display of artifacts, USF Special Collections allows visitors to carefully interact with them – encouraging firsthand deep dives into subject areas of interest. Library curators and staff can pull special request items from climate-controlled storage by appointment for review in designated reading rooms.
“African American history is history for all of us. It is enmeshed in our culture and our special collections contain materials pulled from the general collections that are condensed for easier access,” Huse said.
At the USF Library on the Tampa campus, the African American History Collections includes documentation about the prominent Armwood family’s professional and personal lives. Correspondence, military service records and even diaries contextualize the role the family played in the social and political development of Hillsborough County.
At USF St. Petersburg, the Nelson Poynter Library focuses its collection on African American history in and around Pinellas County, boasting a notable compilation of the Weekly Challenger newspaper that traditionally served African American audiences.
Online, the African American Experience in Florida portal features a digital archive of past and present-day materials, including blog entries and sheet music that help advance the conversation around culture and tradition.
More information about the USF Libraries Special Collections and how to make an appointment can be found here.
Personal family photograph of Walter and Hattie Armwood, a pioneering African American family in the Tampa Bay area