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Florida Matters Preview: Telling Tampa Bay Stories – Progress Village Part 2

Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Interviews for Telling Tampa Bay Stories: Progress Village were conducted at the Emanuel P. Johnson Community Center.

This week on Florida Matters we'll hear the second half of our special two-part series Telling Tampa Bay Stories: Progress Village. We'll hear more residents of Tampa's first affordable housing suburb share their memories growing up there and talk about how the neighborhood has changed.

In this preview, we hear from Alfred Sheffield. His family moved to Progress Village when it was first founded in 1960.

Read a portion of Alfred’s story:

I’m Alfred Sheffield, I’m 66 years old. I started out in Progress Village in 1960. It was our first house. Prior to that we were living in Central Park Village in downtown Tampa, which is no longer there now. We were moving not only in a new house, but we were moving out of the city into what we thought was the woods.

I remember as kids the first time we saw the house, we were running through the house and opening doors and closing doors and playing with light switches, you know, all the things that kids do when they’re so young.

I remember the first night in our new house, it was pitch black in that neighborhood because there were no street lights. And my brother was very afraid and he was crying, he kept saying that he wanted to go back home, which was back in Tampa. So it took him a little while to get used to it, but I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

In no time I was away from the house and exploring the neighborhood as a 9-year-old. I was always a wanderer. And all of the wildlife we saw then – snakes, raccoons, skunks and big bullfrogs. And at night the sky was just dotted all night with lightning bugs, which you don’t see anymore.

What I’m noticing in Progress Village now – of course Progress Village started out as an all-black community. At that time when we moved in, even with segregation, blacks could get very good jobs in Tampa. My dad always had a very good job, he was a truck driver all of his life, and my mother was a domestic worker. So between those two incomes, they could educate their kids properly, raise them, clothe them, feed them and encourage them to make something out of their lives.

However through the years so many people have run into very hard economic times. And because of that they were not able to maintain their homes or even keep their homes. So the neighborhood took a hit. It became depressed and doesn’t look nearly as nice as it looked many years ago when we first moved into the village.

It’s kind of sad to see that, because it really was a great community at one time, but just leaves a bit to be desired now.

I take care of my house and I maintain the yard because that was my mother’s passion, so that’s something that I still do, and I love my yard.

What I have noticed that is interesting is that more white people are moving into Progress Village, something I never thought would happen in my lifetime but I’m seeing that more and more. I think that’s a great thing. Why shouldn’t we coexist as a community of people, no matter who we are or where we’re from? And I think it could only help the community economically.

I have talked to some neighbors that have expressed concerns about that but I don’t agree with them. But I don’t think that the village would ever make it, I don’t think it would ever be the community it once was.

But also, if you’ve probably noticed around this community, when Progress Village was conceived and built it was the only community in this area. There was nothing else here, it was all cow pastures and woods. Whereas now we’re surrounded by new communities.

I would not be surprised if at some point, Progress Village may become nonexistent in that all these homes will be bought up in the interest of building a better community.

The stories will stay alive because that is historical, especially since Progress Village was Tampa’s first low-cost housing suburb.

Sheffield's story was produced by Stephanie Colombini with the help of USF student journalist Samantha Nieto.

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.