THE PINELLAS COUNTY
AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY PROJECT:
PUTTING THE PIECES OF THE PUZZLE TOGETHER
Every community, large and small has its quiet heroes, men and women whose accomplishments on a local level go largely unheralded by historians, who often prefer to focus on "the bigger picture." As a result, many stories have gone untold or worse yet, have been completely forgotten. This is a great tragedy because the study of history in its purest form begins at the local level. Like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, it is a series of collective memories which put together, tell the story of our neighborhoods, and communities, and our nation. History is you and I, our families, our memories, ourselves.

Event Information
Event Photos

Learn about the Project
Who Am I? Photo ID page

A portrait of the Mack Dixon, Sr. family of Clearwater in 1905. Moving with his wife and 14 children from North Florida, Dixon amassed large amounts of property between Cleveland and Court Streets and Greenwood and Missouri Avenue in what later came to be known as "the Mack Dixon Subdivision." He also owned and operated the first theater for African Americans in Clearwater, on Garden Avenue.
That's what the Pinellas County African American History Project is all about. Although African Americans have lived in and played an integral role in the history of Pinellas County, little has been collected on this important group. To remedy this situation, in December of 1999 the Pinellas County Historical Society, in a joint project with Heritage Village, the Pinellas County Community Development Department and the Pinellas County School Board undertook a project to begin the systematic collection of materials that would help document the history of the African American community in Pinellas County. Initially, six major communities were targeted for study: Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs. A core group of talented and energetic volunteers was recruited and trained to go out into these communities to record oral histories from African Americans and to collect photographs, artifacts and other material relating to the African American community. Interviews have been recorded so that elders' stories will not be lost, and information collected has been placed in the permanent collections of Heritage Village. All materials collected will also be copied and shared with a new community group, The African American Heritage Museum and Resource Center of Pinellas County, which seeks to establish an African American history museum in Clearwater.
In 1949, Mrs. Christine Morris (above, left) almost single-handedly established the first library for African Americans in segregated Clearwater in a storefront on the corner of Palmetto and Pennsylvania Streets. The library she began is now embodied in the north Greenwood branch of the Clearwater Public Library.
As a result of these endeavors, a significant amount of information has come to light about the history of the local African American community. Before this project began for example, the county's historical archives contained only 59 photos on African Americans in Pinellas. Now, as this exhibit illustrates, almost 250 photos have been added, and we have begun to learn important new details about the role African Americans have played in the formation of our county, and the contributions they have made to our local communities.
Even in the era of segregation, African Americans managed to establish successful businesses which catered solely to African Americans. This is a shot from about 1950 of one of those businesses, a café that once stood on Garden Avenue in Clearwater.

Do you have anything that you might be willing to share with us? Help us fit together the pieces of this puzzle. If you have any old photographs, artifacts or recollections of historic events in Pinellas County African American communities or if you would like to contribute to the documentation of Pinellas County's African American history, please contact the following individuals:

Curator of Collections
Heritage Village Archives & Library
(727) 582-2128
Fax: (727) 582-2211

Judge Joseph W. Hatchett (1932- ). A native of Clearwater, in 1975 he became the first African American to be appointed to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Later, he was appointed to serve on the Federal bench. Retired since 1999, he currently resides in Tallahassee.