Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

What’s Next on the Riverwalk?

December 4, 2017

We held the unveiling of this year’s Riverwalk honorees last Friday, with a standing-room-only crowd on the water side of the convention center -- and an extraordinarily hot first-day-of-December sun beating down on us. This was our fifth year, and with bronze busts of six historical figures each year, there now are thirty. They all are on the east side of the River, running from the History Center through Waterworks Park, and Mayor Bob indicated that we might consider doing thirty more on the west side, which currently is under re-development.


Our committee, though, has studied designs for three larger monuments, and that may happen instead -- or unless the money for the Monument Trail doesn’t continue, this may be the end. You can check it all out by googling Friends of the Riverwalk, especially Monument Trail. I’d appreciate it if you would let me know what you think.


The three “monumental” monuments that have been proposed acknowledge the Port of Tampa, the tobacco industry, and World War II as fundamental to our town. I rather like this idea because it shows history as it really is -- the joint efforts of many people, as opposed to a “great man” view of the past. The port, of course, is why we are here, beginning with Fort Brooke and sailing ships in 1824. This design is clever: It features a shallow pool and map outline of the Gulf, so we can walk across the water to the Caribbean, as well as a “railroad” that runs to Polk County, from which our port long has exported phosphate, cattle, and citrus.


The design for the tobacco industry also emphasizes Tampa’s ties to Cuba, with our unique tradition of cigar makers and lectors. We were the nation’s Cigar City from 1885 to 1961, when tobacco importation from Cuba was banned. The third idea is the huge transformation that began in the 1940s with World War II. We had three major air bases: the current MacDill; Henderson Field, where USF is now; and Drew Field, now home to TIA. Shipbuilding also was a key defense industry, and many people who came to Tampa because of the war made it their permanent home.


The Men and Woman of the 2017 Riverwalk Statues


So I don’t know whether or not these will be the last individual honorees, but they are an interesting and diverse group, and you can find more biographical material at thetampariverwalk.com/historical-monument-trail/honorees. Also, you will recognize the first name as the honoree of what Tampans call “Adam-o Drive,” but his family would have pronounced it “A-dah-mo” with the accent on the middle syllable. And finally, I’m going to vary a bit from alphabetical order – you’ll see why at the end.


Adamo, Francisco (Frank) Scozzari (1893-1988) came from a Sicilian immigrant family so poor that he began work in Ybor City cigar factories before he was in his teens -- yet he rose to be an internationally recognized physician and a hero of World War II. He was one of the few doctors to survive the ordeals of Bataan and Corregidor, the war’s first battles early in 1942. Taken captive, he treated thousands of prisoners of war in the Philippines, and his innovative use of sulfa saved lives and limbs. He was liberated by American troops in February 1945 and greeted with a hero’s welcome back home. Dr. Adamo practiced surgery at Centro Asturiano Hospital, was elected president of the Hillsborough County Medical Society, and lived to age 95.


Barnard, Elizabeth Dortsch (1881-1960) was Tampa’s first female postmaster, at a time when postal service was important to a fast-growing city during the Roaring Twenties. It also was a time when postal appointments often were political, but she earned her way to this top position. A widow with children to support, she was undeterred by initial employment discrimination, and earlier than most, understood the relative opportunity in the federal civil service. She studied the post office’s promotion requirements and scored well on objective exams – and when she reached the highest position in Tampa in 1923, was the highest-paid woman in the history of the US Post Office. Under her ten-year tenure, sixteen new postal sub-stations were created in Tampa, and the number of letter carriers rose from 19 to 113.


Hart, Ossian Bingley (1821-1874) was the tenth governor of the state of Florida, but the first to have been born here. Florida always has been a state of newcomers, and his father pioneered near Jacksonville. He became one of Florida’s largest slaveholders – yet Ossian was a strong advocate for freed blacks during the crucial years after the Civil War. He held several elected positions and practiced law as both a prosecutor and defender. Although he lived in several other Florida cities, his time in Tampa was notable for his defense of a slave called simply “Adam.” Hart’s arguments saved him from execution and the case was on appeal when Tampa men broke into the jail and lynched Adam. As governor, Hart successfully sponsored civil rights legislation for both women and former slaves, and he worked for a system of public education.


Mays, Benjamin Elijah (1894-1984)


Born to former slaves in rural South Carolina less than thirty years after slavery ended, Benjamin E. Mays was a leader of the civil rights movement for African Americans throughout his long life. He and his wife, Sadie Gray Mays, lived in Tampa only a relatively short time -- but a 1927 study that he did under the aegis of the National Urban League revealed the poverty that Tampa’s minorities endured. Mays’ history also is intertwined with that of Riverwalk honoree Blanche Armwood, demonstrating the national network of early twentieth-century leaders for African Americans. A serious scholar with specialties in math, psychology, and religion, he earned a doctorate from the prestigious University of Chicago and ultimately held 34 honorary degrees – even though, when he was a child, his father did not want him to go to school.


Sparkman, Stephen M. (1849-1929)


A member of a pioneer family with roots in East Hillsborough County, Stephen Sparkman represented Tampa in the US House from 1895 to 1917. He was the first member of Congress from what then was considered “South Florida.” His tenure included the 1898 Spanish-American War, which brought tens of thousands of people to Tampa and made it clear that shipping improvements were needed. Troops headed to battle in Cuba had to assemble far south of downtown at Port Tampa, which was the only harbor deep enough for ocean-going steamships. Motivated by this, Congressman Sparkman brought millions of federal dollars that changed the very nature of land and sea in Tampa Bay. Those funds paid for digging deep-water channels from Port Tampa to Channelside, which allowed larger and more modern ships to come closer to the population center and to Ybor City’s new cigar factories. The transformation also created new landmasses, including modern Harbour Island.


And a Trumpet Call for Our Own Founder!


Victoriano Manteiga (1894-1982) was the preeminent leader of Tampa’s Latin community for much of the twentieth century. He founded La Gaceta in 1922, and it remains the nation’s only trilingual newspaper: published weekly, it has pages in Spanish, Italian, and English. Born in Cuba, he became a lector, or reader, in cigar factories soon after his 1914 arrival in Tampa. Cigarmakers hired lectors to read to them while they worked, and many Tampa immigrants thus were more familiar with classical literature and international news than most Americans. Manteiga was one of many lectors, but he became the outstanding advocate for immigrants by founding LaGaceta – less than a decade after arrival and at age 29. Although some termed him a “communist” at the time of the Cuban revolution in the early 1960s, respect for him nonetheless was so great that candidates for national office sought his endorsement. He passed the newspaper on to his son Roland; in its third generation, it is owned by grandson Patrick Manteiga.


Final Thoughts


The committee did not set out to create a system of affirmative action for the statues, but because of Tampa’s wonderful diversity, that is the way it has worked out. This was the first year that we had just one woman (other years there have been more), but the 2017 class has two Anglo men, one Italian, one Cuban, and an African American. Over the years, we have honored nine women: three Anglos, three African-Americans, a German Jew, an Italian and a Cuban. Of the men, eight were Anglo, six were African American, five Hispanic, and one Jewish. Yes, the math doesn’t work. That’s because the very first honoree was an abstraction of the area’s original inhabitants, the Mound Builders. Hairdos at that ancient time render a genderless image.


Second point: We are a city of immigrants and always have been. Of these 30 honorees, more than a third were born abroad: three in Spain, three in Cuba, two in Germany, two in Scotland, and one in Italy. Others, of course, were the children of immigrants and grew up speaking other languages. More than a third were the children or grandchildren of slaves -- some in Cuba, but most in America -- and all of them had to overcome great obstacles.


It’s something that needs to be emphasized at a time when the nation’s leadership seems to be reverting to racism and xenophobia. We are a family, and that familial love was very clear at the dedication. I sat in the same row as the Manteigas, now in their fourth generation of adults, and enjoyed the fifth generation as they clambered out of their chairs and tried to display their step-climbing ability. Children and equal opportunity. That’s what it’s all about.


doris@dweatherford.com




Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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