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New Central Tampa housing project named for community activist

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 06:18 PM
TAMPA -

Community activist Essie Mae Reed didn't have a car, so she pedaled her bicycle all across Tampa.

Most often she was on a mission to better the lives of thousands of tenants living in public housing.

For 45 years, Reed lived in Central Park Village, an outdated public housing complex that was torn down in 2007 to make way for Encore, a $450-million project to build a village center of apartments, shops and a black history museum.

After a series of strokes, Reed moved to Brandon a few years ago to live with one of her daughters.

Today, the Tampa Housing Authority will hold a groundbreaking at noon for the authority's second senior apartment building at Encore. It will be named The Reed in honor of Reed's long years of volunteer service.

Reed will be unable to attend but will offer greetings in a video taped message.

"We could have honored her with a statue," said Leroy Moore, the housing authority's chief operating officer.

But "Reed" brought to mind a clarinet's reed and seemed to fit with Encore's musically named buildings, The Ella, The Trio and The Tempo.

Recognition for Reed is fitting because of her advocacy for poor people and her activism on voting rights issues, Moore said.

The 82-year-old Reed was a former tomato picker and maid who could not read and write until after the age of 40.

"It gave me hope and made me proud. The most important thing I learned to read was the 23rd Psalm. It brought me closer to God," Reed said during a 2008 interview.

At the time, she had just received a singular honor when U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor had stood on the floor of the House of Representatives to praise Reed as a champion of the poor.

Reed in 1967 organized a tenants' association at Central Park. She lobbied for a Boys & Girls Club at the complex, took children to Hillsborough Community College for enrichment activities and sought medical care and medicine for the needy.

In 1971, Reed was the first black woman to run for Tampa City Council. She lost the race but filed a lawsuit that struck down filing fees required of candidates. A federal judge ruled that candidates can qualify by petition.

"I think we have a couple of elected officials who ran on petition," Reed said in 2008.

The Reed will open in 2014 as a 158-unit senior apartment building located across from the 161-unit senior apartment building, The Ella.

The Ella, named for singing legend Ella Fitzgerald, recently had a grand opening and was the first building completed at Encore. The Trio, a 141-unit multifamily apartment building had a groundbreaking Dec. 4. The 28-acre site is bordered by Nebraska and Central avenues and Cass and Scott streets. The first tenants should move in to The Ella by the end of the month.

December has been an upbeat month for the housing authority, which last week learned it will receive a $30-million federal grant that will fund a fourth apartment building, The Tempo. The funds also will help pay for additional amenities at other buildings, a nearby job training center, improvements to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and restoration of the St. James Episcopal Church.


ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652
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