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Peacemaker Moses White among six honored with Riverwalk busts

TAMPA — A black youth was shot and killed by a white police officer. No charges were filed and riots erupted.

The headlines from Ferguson, Missouri, played out much the same in Tampa 47 years ago: A force assembled that included 500 National Guardsmen, 250 Florida Highway Patrol troopers and 250 local law enforcement officers, yet seven buildings housing dozens of businesses were set on fire and destroyed.

It could have been worse. But Tampa had a hero in African-American civil rights leader and businessman Moses White. He helped orchestrate a peace.

A year later, when riots again threatened, White stepped in to calm the turmoil.

He would even help organize meetings that led to the integration of the staff at City Hall.

On Friday, White was among six people added to the Historical Monument Trail along Tampa's Riverwalk.

The new bronze busts were unveiled beside the Tampa Convention Center and join 12 others already in place along the Historical Monument Trail on the 2.5-mile Riverwalk connecting downtown to Tampa Heights.

Created in 2012, the trail celebrates significant events and noteworthy people who have contributed to the history of Tampa and Hillsborough County. Each year, six new members are inducted via the monuments.

“My father would have argued against being memorialized,” said White's son, Andre White, who traveled from Atlanta to attend the ceremony. “He would not have wanted the attention. But I am proud he was honored.”

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Inductees were chosen months in advance and the parallels between White's story and current events is a sad coincidence, said historian Fred Hearns, who serves on the monument nominating committee.

Here's a look at the other five inductees:

Blanche Armwood (1890-1939): The namesake for Armwood High School, she was among the founders of the city's Urban League and was head of Hillsborough County's black schools. If not for her early death due to pneumonia, historians believe she would have been the first African American woman admitted to the Florida Bar Association. There is currently an effort to have her inducted posthumously.

Herman Glogowski (1854–1909): The mayor of Tampa when it was incorporated as a city, among his accomplishments while in office were founding the first city fire department, supporting the efforts to construct Henry Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel — now part of the University of Tampa — and opening the city's first telephone system.

Gavino Gutierrez (1849-1919): Labelled by historians as “Ybor City's first resident,” he came to Tampa while scouting for guava trees. He later recommended the area to Vicente Martinez Ybor, who was looking for a place to move his cigar empire. Gutierrez then helped design what would become Ybor City.

Bena Wolf Maas (1863-1947): Along with her husband, Abe Maas, she cofounded the business that became Tampa's longtime department store, Maas Brothers. She also helped found The Children's Home in Tampa and supported orphanages throughout the city.

Hugh Campbell Macfarlane (1851-1935): He founded West Tampa and helped bring the cigar industry to the area and helped finance the Fortune Street Bridge and West Tampa streetcar line.

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All the honorees, Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the gathering, “in their own shape and form made this city better. Everything we do now builds upon that foundation.”

Andre White said he hopes people remember his “color blindness.”

“My father knew how to bring all races together,” he said. “We should all want to be like him.”

Born in 1915, White became known as the “Mayor of Central Avenue,” Tampa's African-American community where he owned several businesses — Palm Dinette, Deluxe Cosey Corner, Club Rayals and the Flamingo Rooming House. He was also known for feeding those less fortunate.

In the 1960s, former Mayor Dick Greco said, White was among those who helped bridge a racial divide in the city.

One is listed on his monument.

According to newspaper reports, on June 11, 1967, Tampa police officer James Calvert was looking for three young men who robbed a camera store.

When he spotted 19-year-old Martin Chambers, he ordered him to stop. Chambers ran. Calvert fired his revolver and killed the unarmed youth.

Then-State Attorney Paul Antinori ruled the shooting justifiable.

For three days afterward, rioters burned and looted Central Avenue.

White curried favor with looters and law enforcement alike by feeding both for free.

“He told the looters to please go home because no good was coming of this,” Andre White. “He asked the police to please not harm the looters because they were good people.”

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Greco, a city councilman at the time, visited Central Avenue the day the riots subsided.

“The only establishments I remember being completely untouched were those owned by Moses,” he said. “People respected him too much.”

A few months later, Greco was elected mayor and took over a city still recovering — both emotionally and structurally.

Then in March 1968, a second riot threatened Central Avenue.

Newspaper reports said it started when police were called by a Central Avenue bar owner to calm an intoxicated female patron.

Caucasian police escorted the African American woman from the bar.

An African American crowd gathered and grumbled that she was being mistreated.

Greco rushed to Central Avenue when he heard of the trouble.

Tampa police officers and Hillsborough County deputies had already assembled in riot gear, ready to storm Central Avenue.

But Greco and then-Sheriff Malcolm Beard decided to talk to the crowd.

“I stood on a flower pot and yelled, 'Somebody is going to get hurt if this continues and nobody wants that to happen' with Moses standing nearby to signify our unity,” Greco said. “And I told everyone they were invited to come to my office and tell me what bothered them.”

Newspaper reports back Gerco's version of events.

The angry crowd dissipated, and Greco, Beard and White walked the community that night to reach out to business and civic leaders.

“People did come to my office and we worked together to provide them with the opportunities they lacked,” said Greco. “Moses along with others worked with me on all of that. Without him, I'm not sure we could have turned a negative into a positive.”

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Over the next two years, the city hired the first African-American firefighters; the first African American assistant city attorney, Warren Dawson; the first African-American secretary in the mayor's office, Evelyn Wilson; and the first African-American head of the Tampa Housing Authority, Howard Harris.

In 1969, White promoted a football game in Tampa between Florida A&M and the University of Tampa in Tampa — the state's first contest between a historically black college and a predominantly white university.

“That was a big deal,” historian Hearns said. “It had a lot to do with the city's healing.”'

White died in March 1984.

“My father did not see white. My father did not see black,” Andre White said. “My father saw right and he saw wrong and if you did something wrong, rather than judge you he would sit down with you to talk sense into you. That was his secret.”

Each of the new monuments monument is made up of a bronze bust that sits upon a 2,000-pound granite pedestal with heights matching the honoree's real-life dimensions.

Moses White's stands tallest.

Still, said Steve Anderson, president of Friends of the Riverwalk, “The height and size has very little to do with what was in their hearts.”

Past inductees include Henry B. Plant, Vicente Martinez-Ybor, Kate Victoria Jackson and Peter O. Knight.

The next six inductees will be decided in the coming months and announced in December 2015.

Potential honorees must have died at least 15 years ago.

“I am glad this will help people remember my dad,” said Andre White. “He was a special man.”

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