Spectrum Bay News 9 Political Reporter Mitch Perry is looking for deeper meaning in politics and government so our local stories have more of a connection in your daily life.

TAMPA, Fla. — A coalition of community leaders in Tampa are working on an effort to create two memorials to commemorate the victims of racial lynching in Hillsborough County.

  • A memorial to commemorate an African-American man lynched in Orlando was unveiled last June
  • Local organizers have submitted an application for a memorial to the Equal Justice Initiative
  • There were more than 300 lynchings of African-Americans in Florida

The group – which includes Tampa City Council Chair Luis Viera and Hillsborough County state Rep. Fentrice Driskell – has been meeting informally for several months at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Tampa to work on an effort to recognize the local victims of lynching.

Florida had the second most racial lynchings per capita in the U.S., according to Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in their report, Lynching in America. Five of those lynchings occurred in Hillsborough County.

Based in Montgomery, Ala., the Equal Justice Initiative is responsible for the creation of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial that opened in 2018 to honor the thousands of people killed in lynchings in the U.S.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice has over 800 steel monuments, one for each county where a racial terror lynching took place. It includes the names of the lynching victims engraved on the monument. As part of their “Community Remembrance Project,” members of those communities can petition the Equal Justice Initiative on bringing those memorials to their region.

“Many communities are utilizing markers to remember Jim Crow era violence, and we believe it is past time that we, as Tampa and Hillsborough County, proudly join these communities,” write the members of the local coalition in their application to the Equal Justice Initiative.  “We must recognize, realize and internalize our shameful history of racial violence so that we can have a proper dialogue and seek true reconciliation.”

A local coalition in Orlando worked last year with the Equal Justice Initiative to create a marker memorializing an African-American man who was beaten, shot and lynched as a warning to black citizens who considered voting in 1920. It was unveiled last summer in front of the Orange County Regional History Center.

Rep. Driskell says that the coalition separately wants to create a memorial for Robert Johnson, a black man who was lynched in Tampa in 1934. Johnson was accused of assaulting a white woman and was arrested by the Tampa Police Department. The TPD later found that he did not commit the crime and was purportedly transferred to Hillsborough County law enforcement to be charged for stealing chickens.  According to the application, he was shot and killed after being transferred. Nobody was ever held accountable for his murder.

“We just think it’s important to understand history, and how history impacted this community,” says Rep. Driskell. “It’s important to understand so that we can provide context to where we are now and make sure that we have a clear understanding of where we want to go, to the extent that these things don’t happen again.”

Driskell says that the coalition has reached out to the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Hillsborough County NAACP and others to create a board base of support.

Others involved with the effort include Stetson Law professor Tammy Briant Spratling, Alan Temple A.M.E. pastor Glenn Dames and Fred Hearns, a former longtime official with the city of Tampa’s Community Affairs Department.