“Lift every voice, and sing till Earth and Heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty,” resounded the voice of young Sala Zake to an audience in the pews of Beulah Baptist Church on Wednesday. The song was “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – otherwise known as the “Negro National Anthem” – and it was the kickoff to the USF Institute on Black Life’s (IBL) spring symposium.
USF staff and students gathered at Beulah in downtown Tampa on Wednesday morning for what IBL director Cheryl Rodriguez called a celebration of public history for both academic and community members.
“This (symposium) is our attempt to celebrate and acknowledge social history, but also underscore its importance to the past, present and future,” she said.
The symposium pulled together students, professors and community members to share stories and discuss Tampa’s rich history of black culture and communities. Memory, Rodriguez said, is an integral part of understanding and preserving history and culture.
“Experts are those who are well-grounded in their histories,” she said. “We thought a community program should be held in the community.”
Beulah is a cornerstone of black history in Tampa. The second-oldest black church in town, Beulah was founded in 1865 – right on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation – and it seemed like the perfect place to examine Tampa’s black history, Rodriguez said.
Provost Ralph Wilcox said he has attended the symposium every year he has been at USF and commended Rodriguez’s “great wisdom” in bringing the event to the public. Though he grew up in England, Wilcox said the history and plight of blacks in America are deeply important to him.
“The stages of the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. were emblazoned night after night on the news in Britain,” he said. “Most certainly there has been progress. But should we stop? I think not.”