Historic Harlem Academy Marker Dedication

Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Historic Harlem Academy Alumni invite you to the Historic Harlem Academy Marker Dedication at 4 p.m. Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 506 E. Harrison St., Tampa, FL 33602. A reception will follow at the Raymond O. Shelton School Administrative Center located at 901 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Please RSVP to Kristin Jernigan kjernigan@sdhc.us or 813-272-4055.

The historic Harlem Academy, known as “The Mother of African-American Schools,” was the first public school erected for African-American children in Tampa.

The first classes were held in 1868 in the Hillsborough County Courthouse. In the early 1870s, the Freedmen’s Bureau financed what became known as School No.2. In 1889, a new building was constructed at the comer of Harrison and Morgan Streets, and the school was officially designated as the Harlem Academy. The goal of Harlem Academy was to provide a quality education for its students, and to encourage them to learn within and outside the classroom and to continue on to higher education.

In 1892, Harlem Academy was destroyed in a fire. Thomas McKnight and other members of Tampa’s African-American community raised funds to rebuild the school. St. Paul AME and other churches provided space, until a new building was completed in 1895. This structure was replaced by a brick building in 1912. Many prominent African-American citizens were involved with the school. Christina A. Meacham and Andrew J. Ferrell, Jr., once principals of Harlem, had schools in Hillsborough County named in their honor.

The Harlem Academy closed in 1964, thus completing its ninety-six year contribution to the education of African-Americans in Tampa. Although the physical structure was later demolished, the heart of Harlem Academy lives on in the teachers, students and staff that graced its classrooms and halls.

Great American Teach-In

Tampa Preservation, Inc. participated in the Great American Teach-In this past November. Six fourth grade classes of excellent, eager-to-learn students at Forest Hills Elementary learned about Tampa’s rich history and heritage through the book If Our House Could Talk, featuring the 1914 National Register listed Leiman-Wilson House located in the Hyde Park Historic District.

TPI Education Coordinator and the book’s author, Robin Gonzalez, shared items that she bought on EBay, including stereo-view cards from the Spanish-American War, along with lemonade glasses and a cut glass vase bought at a yard sale from the previous Leiman-Wilson House owners. When asked by one student why anyone would want these old things, Mrs. Gonzalez replied, “I think you just want a little piece of history.”

After reading the book and a lot of Question and Answer time, each student received their own copy of the book to keep. Mrs. Gonzalez asked that they all think about becoming preservationists, and judging from their conversations, some of them are already picking out buildings that need their help!

* If Our House Could Talk is a TPI publication that young and old alike can enjoy. It makes a great Holiday gift or stocking stuffer. The book is available for purchase at Inkwood Books, the Henry B. Plant Museum Store or through TPI for larger orders.

Historic Schools Tour

The Second Annual TPI Historic Schools Tour was held on Saturday, April 19th. This year’s tour included Plant High School, Roosevelt Elementary, Gorrie Elementary, Mitchell Elementary and Wilson Middle School. Everyone met at Plant and hopped on a yellow school bus for an “authentic” experience.

Each Principal greeted participants, took them on a tour and shared their facility’s unique history. Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Cathy Valdes informed the group that the Hillsborough County School District has the second largest inventory of historic schools in the state and is the largest steward of historic properties in the county. What a huge responsibility!

Tampa Preservation’s own Paula Meckley was a featured speaker at both Wilson and Mitchell where she has taken her knowledge and skills as a preservationist and put them to work. Whether procuring and installing salvaged wood floors or writing grants to fund a new lunchroom at Mitchell, Paula can’t be stopped! Everyone was inspired by her stories and enthusiasm. She is proof that preservation works.

As the yellow bus pulled into the Plant parking lot everyone received a Tampa Preservation Salutes Historic Schools poster. Old friends visited and new friends were made on the short outing. Something about “going back to school” is special for everyone. Don’t miss the Third Annual Historic Schools Tour next year!