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"Negro Day" in Tampa? MLK Day stirs memories of segregated past | Community Spirit

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"Negro Day" in Tampa? MLK Day stirs memories of segregated past
"Negro Day" in Tampa? MLK Day stirs memories of segregated past

Tampa, FL -- "Negro Day," off-limits neighborhoods, separate restrooms, schools, and seating areas... all were realities in the Tampa Bay of the past that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly to change.

Monday's parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will end at Middleton High School, what was for years one of only two Tampa high schools black students were allowed to attend.

If you were black, you went to Middleton or Blake High School, and -- like thousands of other people in our community -- segregation and degradation were part of your daily life.

At La Plaza movie theater in St. Petersburg, you didn't dare sit in the wrong spot. Black families had to watch from the balcony.

All over St. Pete and countless other cities, black and white people used separate restrooms, couldn't eat dinner out together, and couldn't sit next to each other in the front seat of a car.

Lounell Britt remembers. She grew up in segregated St. Petersburg and says as a child, she knew the rules. "I knew about the colored drinking fountains and I knew when we went downtown, there were certain stores where you didn't try on things," she said.

Diane West worked at a whites-only lunch counter in St. Pete. "My manager told me I couldn't wait on [black customers]," she said. "Nobody ever insulted them or anything -- I just couldn't wait on them."

A film from the 1953 Florida State Fair in Tampa seems surreal today. It proudly proclaims "Negro Day! When the colored youth of Florida display their athletic and cultural achievements!"

The film shows images of marching bands and athletic competitions where the participants and spectators are exclusively African-American.

A white man is shown handing a certificate to another white man, and the narrator says, "Fair officials present the award for achievement to the outstanding Negro of the year."

The fact that images like these seem strange and foreign to so many people today is a testament to the nonviolent protests championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and carried out by so many others.

Connect with 10 News multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm
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