Celebrating Black Excellence: Trailblazing Figures from Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties, Florida


"St Pete Florida Blues" by Hillsborough County, Florida resident Ray Charles

As we celebrate Black History Month, it's essential to recognize and honor the remarkable contributions of Black individuals who have left an indelible mark on the history of Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties in Florida. From civil rights activists to groundbreaking artists, the region has been home to influential figures whose achievements continue to inspire and shape our communities.

  1. Ray Charles - Hillsborough County:
    Born in Albany, Georgia, Ray Charles, the legendary musician, spent his childhood in Greenville, Florida, before moving to Tampa, Hillsborough County. Charles, often referred to as "The Genius," overcame adversity and blindness to become a pioneer in the world of soul and rhythm and blues, leaving an enduring legacy in the music industry.
  2. Clarence Fort - Pinellas County:
    A prominent civil rights activist, Reverend Clarence Fort was a leader in Pinellas County, advocating for equal rights during the 1960s. Fort played a pivotal role in desegregating schools and promoting social justice, contributing significantly to the advancement of civil rights in the local community.
  3. Debra Austin - Pasco County:
    Debra Austin, a trailblazer in the world of dance, hails from Pasco County. In 1982, she made history as the first Black female dancer to become a principal with a major American ballet company, joining the Pennsylvania Ballet. Austin's groundbreaking achievements shattered racial barriers in the world of classical ballet.
  4. Gwendolyn Reese - Hillsborough County:
    Gwendolyn Reese, a historian and community leader, has played a crucial role in preserving and promoting African American history in Hillsborough County. As the founder of the African American Heritage Trail, Reese has worked tirelessly to ensure that the rich cultural heritage of Black communities is celebrated and remembered.

These are just a few examples of the outstanding Black figures who have emerged from Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties, leaving an indelible legacy in their respective fields. As we reflect on Black History Month, let us celebrate the achievements, resilience, and contributions of these individuals, acknowledging the diverse tapestry of history that has shaped our communities for the better.

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