September 07, 2018
UT senior Anisa Brown’s internship gave her an opportunity to find out more about her hometown and, at the same time, archive some family history.
As a summer intern at the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center, Anisa Brown ’19 was tasked with filling in the gaps on the town’s history.
As a summer intern at the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center, Brown was tasked with filling in the gaps on the city just east of Tampa. Plant City was named for Henry B. Plant — who built the Tampa Bay Hotel, which is now UT’s Plant Hall. In 1884, Plant extended the South Florida Railroad into Plant City.
While the center’s archives have plentiful photographs and history on the white community, it was lacking in the turbulent history of its black community during the time of segregation.
“For over a century, Plant City has been praised for the Florida Strawberry Festival, their beautiful strawberry queens and generous southern hospitality, but people never talk about the inequality that took place in the mid-1900s during the Jim Crow era,” Brown writes in the culmination of her summer research, the monograph, “Growing up Black in Plant City, Florida, during the time of Segregation and Inequality.”
While segregation ended in 1964, many southern cities, including Plant City, were not open to the idea of change in their city, said Brown’s grandmother, Doreatha Brown, one of the many friends and family members she interviewed this summer while she gathered qualitative research.
“It was very prejudiced,” said Doreatha Brown. “We had to make sure we did all of our shopping and everything before dark. Even after desegregation came along there still took some time for the changes to take place.”
Anisa Brown, a journalism major, said her grandmother and mother were nervous her research might ruffle some feathers in the community.
“They were just nervous that people would disagree with my article or feel like I’m attacking Plant City,” she said. “But I’m really not. I’m just telling the story.”
Brown said it was hard to hear the stories about integrating into schools and the bravery and fortitude it took. She also asked her interviewees of their reaction to hearing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his later assassination.
“While growing up in Plant City may have been a loving and accepting community for some, for others the experience was not quite the same,” Brown writes. “They have struggled with racism, inequality and, to some degree, hatred from their counterparts. This is a universal feeling for the black community from Plant City. However, these individuals did not let that deter them from reaching their full potential.”
Brown is working toward a career in print or broadcast journalism, though she is finding a pull to print. She is a copy editor for the Minaret and enjoys interviewing people and learning their stories. It was just a plus that her assignment this summer gave her a better picture of her own history.
“Plant City, like any other city in the United States, has had its flaws. But, over the last 40 years Plant City has made major adjustments in how to treat others, so all races could feel equal,” Brown writes. “Living in this beautiful city my entire life, it was hard to imagine how difficult it was growing up as a black person during that time period, trying to overcome obstacles many said were impossible. These brave individuals powered through and continue to call Plant City their home.”
Brown’s paper will be published in three installments of Focus Plant City, beginning in mid-September.