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Tampa’s New Black Bookstore ‘A Sanctuary For Banned Books’

Gwen Henderson, Tampa's only Black City Council member, envisioned her bookstore as a sanctuary for banned books.

In the heart of Tampa, Florida at 401 E. Oak Ave., the Black English Bookstore opened Dec. 2, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Gwen Henderson, Tampa’s only Black City Council member, envisioned this business as a place where literature and history, often marginalized, could find a home. The 59-year-old public school teacher embarked on this venture to honor the memory of her great-great grandfather.

“A sanctuary for banned books,” Henderson declared, reflecting on the bookstore’s purpose.

Born out of her commitment to bridging gaps in Black history education, the store aims to provide a refuge for literature that has been overlooked or suppressed. The location, just north of the interstate that once divided Tampa’s Black community, holds historical resonance.

Henderson found the perfect location for her vision after winning a seat on the City Council, discovering a “For lease” sign in a brick building near her home and office. Despite juggling responsibilities, including caring for her mother, Henderson saw the bookstore as an opportunity to build economic prospects for the community she serves.

The bookstore’s opening is critical as Florida reevaluates Black history education, highlighting the urgency of preserving and celebrating Black voices, according to the outlet. Henderson’s commitment to fostering economic opportunities and success within the neighborhood is evident in her dedication to the Black English Bookstore.

The location’s historical significance is poignant. Situated near Perry Harvey Sr. Park, it is a testament to Tampa’s Black history. The park stands in the place once known as The Scrub, a thriving hub of Black businesses, culture, and music, demolished for urban renewal.

The Black English Bookstore, named after a James Baldwin essay, aspires to be more than a bookstore; it aims to be a cultural hub reminiscent of Books for Thought, a cherished store that closed in 2007. Henderson envisions a space where Black authors are not confined to a single shelf but are celebrated and showcased.