The twisted history of Fair Day
On the first Friday of the Florida State Fair, students are given a day off of school to ride rides and eat fried food. As the fair invites visitors for the next few weeks, learn about the origin of Student Day, a widely unknown piece of Florida's racist past.
Negro Achievement Day was the original Fair Day. On the first Friday the fair was open, black children were given a day off of school and a ticket to the fair. It was the one day African-Americans were allowed at the fair out of the three weeks the fair was in place. On that day, speakers made appearances and shows were presented, such as the Ringling Bro’s Barnum and Bailey circus performers.
The first Negro Achievement Day was put in place in 1909. The Tampa Tribune overview of the event was short. The speaker was Booker Washington, a well known African-American educator and author. “White visitors are cordially invited to attend and see what the colored citizen is doing in the way of progress,” the Tampa Tribune wrote.
In 1916, the Tampa Tribune published an overview of the event. “The directors of the South Florida Fair Association took a wise step in providing for a Negro Day at the Fair, adding an extra day to the program in order that the representative negro citizens and organizations of South Florida may have an opportunity to show what they can do,” it said.
As the fair got bigger, the list of special days accumulated. Amidst the list at the fair of 1955, including Boy Scout Day, Tampa Continental Day, Gasparilla Invasion Day and County Commissioners Day was Friday, Feb. 11, Negro Achievement Day or Negro Children Day. That year, the Negro Division at the fair set a new record according to the Tampa Tribune with “special awards for members of the race for their achievements during the past year.” The one day was organized by a different board than the one that organized the rest: the Negro Division. They booked the shows and speakers and decided the awards.
From 1909 to 1965, that first Friday of the Florida State Fair was Negro Children’s Day. When segregation in the United States ended in 1967, the practice became unconstitutional. It was 1968 when the first Fair Day took place. On Jan. 26 of that year, all students were given a day off of school for Fair Day.
Negro Achievement Day was recalled in 2014, when the family of Andrew Johnson III, who was killed by a car after being removed from the Fair Grounds by a Sheriff Officer, filed a lawsuit against the Sheriffs department. ‘“Student day has had a continuous history of civil rights abuses,” the suit alleges, claiming that it targets “African-American students and juveniles for arrest, ejection and unjustified law enforcement intervention,”’ according to the Tampa Bay Times.