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Florida Matters: Telling Tampa Bay Stories – Progress Village Part 1

Progress Village was Tampa's first affordable housing suburb, and this week on Florida Matters we'll hear its story.

WUSF launched an ongoing series in 2015 called Telling Tampa Bay Stories that highlights neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area and the people who make them special. First we brought you stories from Midtown in St. Petersburg and now we're shining a light on Progress Village in a special two-part series.

We’ll hear residents of Progress Village share their memories growing up there. And they’ll talk about their hopes for the neighborhood’s future.

About Progress Village

Progress Village is located near the middle of Hillsborough County, right off Interstate-75. It's bordered by Palm River-Clairmel, Riverview and Gibsonton.

Developers announced plans to construct the historically African-American neighborhood in 1958 and people began moving in around 1960.

When Progress Village’s first residents arrived, there was almost nothing besides the houses themselves and the cow pastures that surrounded them. There were no street lights, so at night the sky was lit purely by the moon, stars and the glow of lightening bugs.

There was no bus service, no postal service and no telephones until residents of Progress Village banded together and formed the Progress Village Civic Council. The council advocated for the neighborhood and got residents the services they needed to flourish as a community.

While in the early days there were barely 100 people living in Progress Village, the neighborhood now boasts thousands of residents. There are shopping centers, churches, schools, etc. But some residents say the neighborhood has taken a turn for the worse in recent years in terms of safety and up-keep of homes, while others worry that surrounding development could threaten Progress Village's identity. We'll hear more about those concerns in this two-part series.

Meet Our Storytellers

Pamela Ennis Colleton: Colleton grew up in Progress Village when it was first founded. She shares some fond memories from her childhood and talks about the community's first family reunion.

 “Everybody loved the park. Mr. Johnson would open up the park in the evenings – he ran the concession stand. Any day of the week, we knew when he was there. Around 3-4 p.m. he would put a quarter in the jukebox and it would play five records. By the time he played those records the park was full.”

Click here to listen to Pamela's story.

This story was produced by Stephanie Colombini with the help of USF student journalist Megan Holzwarth.

Angela Gilmore: "It takes a village to raise a child' -- that adage was quoted by a number of residents interviewed for this series, including Gilmore. She shares her memories of going to school in Progress Village and what it was like being the daughter of the deputy sheriff.

“Because our teachers lived in Progress Village and the whole village does take care of a child, we are like brothers and sisters. Everybody's mama was Mama and everybody's daddy was Daddy. We developed a Progress Village culture and we walk around representing that culture.”

Click here to listen to Angela's story.

This story was produced by Stephanie Colombini with the help of USF student journalist Hafsa Quraishi.

Dinah M. Jones: Jones has lived in Progress Village all her life. She talks about her late father’s fruit trees and the influence the neighborhood’s now-senior population has had on her.

“I respect the elders, oh yes, every one of them out here. I haven’t seen anyone that’s going to take it up [the reins] – when the elders are gone it’s going to be really different. We’ll see what the future holds, but the ones that are passing on were the ones that kept this community together.”

Click here to listen to Dinah's story.

This story was produced by Stephanie Colombini with the help of USF student journalist Miki Shine.

Emmanuel P. Johnson: Dubbed by residents as the “Honorary Mayor of Progress Village,” Johnson is one of the pioneers of the neighborhood and founders of the Progress Village Civic Council. He paints a picture of the early days of the village in the beginning of the show, and concludes our program with recollections of the day the Emmanuel P. Johnson Community Center was dedicated in his name.

“You see you’ve got to change with the times. When we came out here we did things year by year. Time changes so fast and so much happened. And then when they came up with this building, the Emmanuel P. Johnson Community Center, I couldn’t have felt no better than when they told me that. That was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had.”

Click here to listen to Emmanuel's story.

This story was produced by Stephanie Colombini.

Look Ahead To Part II

WUSF will bring you more stories about Progress Village next week on Florida Matters. We’ll hear more childhood memories from residents, from growing up next door to the “Candy Lady” to enduring Hurricane Donna. And we’ll learn more about concerns regarding increased development in the areas surrounding Progress Village and what that could mean for the neighborhood’s future.

About the Project

WUSF hosted two interview sessions at the Emmanuel P. Johnson Community Center in Progress Village to collect these stories. We invited people who live and work in the neighborhood to come speak with us. The project was a collaboration with journalism students at the University of South Florida’s Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

Check out this video produced by USF student journalist Paige Cruz:

WUSF News Director Mary Shedden, reporter Daylina Miller and USF journalism professor Jeanette Abrahamsen also helped oversee this effort.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.