The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative’s stunning new Robert W. Saunders Library, near Ybor City, at 1505 N. Nebraska Avenue opened in August after years of community effort.
The new Saunders library features both interactive multimedia exhibits as well as exhibition space. In addition to the use of items from USF Libraries collections in the permanent exhibits, the organizers of the new facility asked the USF Libraries, the City of Tampa Archives and the Tampa Bay History Center, to create displays for the space. Showcasing these partnerships provides a natural pathway for Saunders Library patrons interested in pursuing substantive research in local historical archives, such as the materials in the USF Tampa Library’s Special Collections department.
“When it comes to African American history, the USF Tampa Library has some of the stronger collections in the area. Black Tampa is a lot like Latin Tampa — you can’t skip USF when it comes to research.”
– Special Collections Librarian Andy Huse
The exhibition aims to improve awareness of the breadth of related collections here on site, in part as a way to reach out to community members interested in conducting research and helping them understand where to go next.
Robert W. Saunders suspended his legal studies in 1952 to become the Florida field director of the NAACP. He took over the role from Harry T. Moore, another fearless leader in Florida’s civil rights history. Mr. Moore and his wife were killed on Christmas Day in 1951 when the Ku Klux Klan placed a bomb under their home in the exact spot where their bed was. This took place after Moore’s tireless work concerning the Lake County Sheriff’s alleged mistreatment and murder of several black defendants in a case in Groveland, FL.
During his 14 years with the NAACP, Saunders led Florida through a turbulent period of change, including landmark legal decisions on voting rights, school desegregation, the integration of public beaches, facilities, and housing, equal pay for Black teachers, and many other milestones.
The USF Tampa Library has the Robert and Helen Saunders papers – the Saunderses gave them in the 1980s. Then-USF history professor Dr. Steve Lawson was conducting research in this area and was instrumental in the gift of the Saunders’ papers to the USF Tampa Library.
Special Collections Librarian Andy Huse remarks on the way the related collections work together: “We have so many collections of the papers of important political figures from these challenging times in race relations – Sam Gibbons, Leroy Collins, for example – that you can get a full picture of the interconnectedness and historical context. In the correspondence, you hear a lot of voices weighing in – a lot of white anger over integration, and similar sentiments. We even have the papers of Sumter Lowry, an arch-conservative white supremacist during this period; researchers can see the opposition papers to understand the dynamic.”
“Robert Saunders wanted his papers to be used, so he gave them to us. If you want your legacy to be hidden under glass, give it to a museum.”
To support the preservation of and research with collections like these, contact the USF Libraries Office of Development at (813) 974-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.