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IN THE PRESENCE OF A LEGEND


Thinking of the number of lives Mr. James A. Hammond’s actions may have touched boggles my mind. I can only imagine how far into the future the impact of his being on this earth will reach. Felecia Winton, former owner of Books For Thought, once told me that it was important that you touch lives. That he did.
In 2014, with two three inch binders of photos in my hand, I arrived at Mr. Hammonds front door seeking photographs and information for my book African Americans of Tampa. Indeed he was able to give names to some of the faces I had in those binders. However, he could barely wait to share what he had. Years of history in a trunk.
We spent hours searching through a trunk full of photograph albums. With every flip of a page, a new story was told about some unbelievable historical moment. Now having a full grasp of who he was, I cherish the fact that the day provided such joy for him. He so loved reliving the events the photographs had captured.
As I attempted to thank him and leave, he insisted I tour his beloved 5508 dream. I did and yes I was sold. I became a business owner with an office in a half converted storage unit with a lifetime of Mr. Hammond’s wisdom embedded in every inch.
I had barely settled in my new office when I was blessed with being named to a creative team, including Kerrick Williams, Gary Hammond and Sherryl J. Cusseaux, to develop “The James A. Hammond’s Story” video for a gala celebrating Mr. Hammond’s 85th birthday. His son
Gary Hammond provided a massive amount of documentation, the entire production was produced by his youngest son Kerrick Williams, I wrote the script, and Sherryl Cusseaux orchestrated the wonderful gala. Mr. Hammond gave us a gift that we gave the world, him telling his own story, in his own words, on camera. What a story it is.
What unfolded was his formula for success; “The four P’s. A positive mental attitude, patience, persistence -– and with passion!”; successfully propelled him through life. He shared with us how this Middleton High School graduate:
• Became the first African American in Florida to earn his electrical contractors license & established the Hammond Electric Company
• Entered United States Army as a commissioned officer, eventually advancing to Lieutenant Colonel.
• Started YAPA to organize sit-ins, protests, & boycott and initiate pressure on segregated establishments
• Was Commissioner of Community Relations for the City of Tampa
• Vice president of A. L. Nellum and Associates of Washington, DC
• Founded Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan (THAP)
• As Commissioner of Community Relations, he started COPE(Now Headstart), the first preschool program in Hillsborough
• His actions led to the integration of University of Tampa, GTE management, TECO, Tampa Fire Department & others
• Formed the White Hats Patrol who helped quell violence during a race riot in 1967
• His company, Impact Communications, completed aerial and underground engineering design & installation of the cable, for Tech Cable, known as Jones Cable (his company went from 30% of the contract to 100% - that’s why black people got cable in our community first)
• Appointed by governors Ruben Askew, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush as a Commissioner of the Unemployment Appeals Commission
During one of the interviews, I asked what gave him the courage to do all that he did. He informed me that it was not about courage, he just did what needed to be done. What he did, I would dare to say, impacted every life in this community and will ripple through time forever.
Thank you James Hammond
for a life of service to the community

By: Ersula K. Odom
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