Last night, on Thursday, December 14, 2023, a remarkable event unfolded at St. James @ Encore, celebrating the history and enduring resilience of Tampa’s first Black churches. “Near The Cross: Tampa’s First Black Churches” was a profound journey through time and faith, bringing together a community to pay tribute to its heritage and enjoy the uplifting sounds of gospel music.
In 1863, Black individuals in Tampa took a courageous step by forming Mt. Sinai African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the heart of the Scrub despite the harsh conditions of slavery. This event marked the beginning of a powerful legacy that has shaped the lives of generations. Over the years, this legacy expanded, with Black congregations sprouting in neighborhoods like Central Avenue, Tampa Heights, and Bealsville, Florida.
By 1899, the tireless efforts of freed men and women had led to the organization of more than 40 churches throughout the Tampa Bay area. These places of worship became beacons of hope, centers of education, and symbols of unity, providing essential support to a community that had persevered through adversity.
“Near The Cross: Tampa’s First Black Churches” was a fitting tribute to this incredible journey. The event served as a reminder of the resilience, faith, and sense of community that have characterized Tampa’s Black churches for generations.
We sincerely thank everyone who attended and participated in this remarkable event. Your presence and support made “Near The Cross” an unforgettable evening, honoring the past while looking forward to a future filled with hope, unity, and shared strength.
St. James @ Encore® is the location of a new Tampa Bay History Center initiative in partnership with the Tampa Housing Authority to provide educational experiences in the historic St. James Episcopal Church, 1202 N. Governor St. in Tampa, Fla.