A group of east Tampa students stepped back in time during Black History Month to see what life was like in the Bay area before integration.
- Students get history lesson about Tampa
- Clarence Fort was first black bus driver in city
- Marker will soon be placed at the old Woolworth's building
The Middle Magnet School students got a glimpse of what Tampa Bay was like 60 years ago -- a city divided between blacks and whites.
The HART bus tour was narrated by Clarence Fort, a civil rights activist who was the first black bus driver in Tampa. He walked the students through what was once a part of his daily life: boycotts, sit-ins and segregation.
A storefront that used to be the Woolworth department store was one of the many sites of his activism.
"We walked in and they didn't know what to do with us, so they cut all the lights off at the lunch counter," Fort said. "We just sat there and nobody said a word, so after 20 minutes we walked out, and they cut the lights on and we went back in."
Students were also shuttled to Central Avenue, once the hub of black businesses and nightlife.
Students were shuttled to Central Avenue, once the hub of black businesses and nightlife.
Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald performed at local clubs on the street which today is memorialized with images of those on the front lines of desegregation. Fort's likeness is among them.
"It's foreign to them," Fort said of the students. "They've always had integration. In fact, one of the questions came up yesterday about segregation and they said, 'What's segregation?'"
It's a way of life the students couldn't comprehend.
"I think it was really brave, because they put their lives and themselves on the line so they can help people after them live a better future," said student Zainab Onafowokam.
Another student, Syncere Jones, said, "I'm real grateful to see how they actually changed it and desegregated all the schools and stuff like that and, allowed us to come to school together black and white."
A marker will soon be placed at the old Woolworth's building acknowledging the work of civil rights activists.