History Center exhibit sponsored by TECO is now open

items on display
Travails & Triumphs chronicles more than 500 years of Black history in the Tampa Bay area 

The first African-American to become a noted fashion designer opened her original dress salon in Tampa, launching her storied career. But Ann Lowe’s success wasn’t without a struggle.  

Before she came to Tampa, Lowe studied at a segregated design school in New York, NY. She was required to attend classes in a room alone. But her designs were so artistic and ahead of her peers that she graduated early. 

Lowe moved to Tampa in 1920 and opened her first salon, showcasing designs that catered to the city’s high society. The shop was a huge success, intermingled among other Black-owned businesses that boomed along Central Avenue.  

Years later, Lowe took her savings and returned to New York to open a second salon. Her reputation soared. She is perhaps best known as Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress designer.  

A few of Lowe’s creations are on view at the Tampa Bay History Center’s new permanent exhibit, Travails and Triumphs.  

Like Lowe, people of African descent have lived and labored in the Tampa Bay area for more than five centuries. The exhibit gives visitors a glimpse into these individuals' hardships and victories. 

TECO is a major sponsor of the exhibit, the first of its kind for the Tampa Bay area.  

“We’re immensely proud to make meaningful contributions to this community that help tell the story of black history in Tampa Bay,” said David Nicholson, vice president of legal and general counsel for Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas. 

What You’ll See 

The exhibit includes stories from the first African-descended individuals who traveled to Florida during Spanish expeditions in the 1500s. It features documents from the era of enslavement and the Civil War. The exhibit also chronicles the tremendous growth and successes of Tampa’s Black community in the 20th century, particularly Central Avenue’s Black business district. The stories of more recent figures are brought to life with interactive displays and more than 100 local artifacts collected and donated to the History Center.   

The following is a small sample of items on display. 

dolls and baskets
Black Seminole Culture: Many people of African descent who migrated to Florida from the 1500s to the early 1800s had close relationships to Seminole and other Native American tribes in Florida.  

hospital registry book
Segregated Health Care: “Tampa’s Negro Hospital,” later Clara Frye Memorial Hospital, was on the Hillsborough River on the site of today's Blake High School. The hospital closed and Tampa General Hospital was integrated, four years before Tampa's schools were desegregated in 1971. 

Stole by Ann Lowe
Thriving Black Businesses: Black-owned businesses lined Central Avenue by 1895 and skyrocketed through the mid-20th century, including designer Ann Lowe’s dress salon. She created gowns for Gasparilla, debutante balls and later, custom pieces for Jacqueline Kennedy.

On June 19, as a celebration of Juneteenth, the Tampa Bay History Center will offer free admission to all.