The end of World War II started an economic boom like no other. Returning veterans bought homes and started families. But many didn't have the freedom they so gallantly defended in war. Ernest Sims was one of them.
"He learned that they had homes down on Westshore for veterans so he went down there to apply and was told they were only for white veterans," Delores Sims said.
Tampa had another plan for black veterans -- a segregated community far from downtown and the center of commerce, well beyond the shadows of city life.
"There was nothing here. Not a lot of business. A lot of room to grow," Dr. Maurice Harvey said.
The community of Lincoln Gardens has certainly seen urban sprawl over the last 60 years. It is now surrounded by development. Some of it upscale with new apartments and condos.
But the soul of this neighborhood is still with the original families who moved here in 1951. Still mostly black and who settled their mortgage debts long ago.
"We paid $7,000 for our house, 4 percent interest, and we had a 25-year mortgage, and we paid it off at $52 a month," Sims continued.
The neighborhood has a unique history and historians at the University of South Florida are involved in a project to preserve much of it. That neighborhood has produced a number of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, and even pro athletes such as Fred McGriff and Ernie Sims.
Now their grown children and grandchildren are the protectors of Lincoln Gardens and its sister neighborhood of Carver City.
"It was a neighborhood where everybody grew. Everybody took care of everybody. All the kids were the community's responsibility. I lived here all my life," Dr. Harvey said.
And as they did back then, they all worship together at the place that became the center of their neighborhood: The First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, which has opened a new sanctuary to meet the needs of a changing community.
"There have been an influx of younger people with children, and even the ethnic makeup has changed," explained the Rev. Anthony Greene. "So once, where it was a predominately black community now there's Latinos and some whites in the community."
A neighborhood once segregated is now attracting new life and vitality. A neighborhood for all people.
"I would say it is one of the greatest, if it's not the greatest. And then if you find one better you come and let us know about it," added Hattie Gatlin.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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