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The civil rights papers of Cody Fowler and Steven Lawson

Identifier: F26
  • No requestable containers

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

Many of the documents in this collection provide insight into Cody Fowler’s role in Tampa’s desegregation. A large portion of the documents are correspondences between committee members of the Tampa Bi-Racial Committee, the Commission of Community Relations, and community officials. The collection also contains a large number of reports on African Americans, their lack of employment opportunities, and educational concerns.


  • 188-1974
  • Majority of material found within 1960-1974


Conditions Governing Use

None.  The contents of this collection may be subject to copyright.  Visit the United States Copyright Office's website at for more information.

Biographical or Historical Information

Born in Arlington, Tennessee, Cody Fowler arrived in Tampa, Florida in 1924 as a young lawyer eager to make a difference. Though work initially brought him to the city, his family also provided an incentive. His mother, Maud Fowler, was heavily involved in the development of Temple Terrace, serving as the city’s mayor in 1926. Cody Fowler drafted the city’s charter, served as its first attorney, and also served a term as mayor in 1928 – his only elected office. Fowler made a name for himself early in his career when he defended African American clients in Tampa’s courts – something few other white lawyers were willing to do. Fowler worked in a number of law firms throughout the 1920s and ‘30s before joining with Morris White to form the Fowler and White firm. He rose through the ranks of leadership within local and regional bar associations, and in 1950, he was elected president of the American Bar Association – the first Tampa lawyer to attain that position. The following year, Tampa’s Civitan Club named him as their Citizen of the Year, which is among the most prestigious honors awarded in Tampa. During the 1950s, Fowler was instrumental in eliminating the graft, corruption, and organized crime influence that had permeated Tampa’s political system for generations. In 1959, Fowler was appointed chairman of both Florida’s and Tampa’s Bi-Racial Commissions. His calm approach to problems and his belief that integration was necessary for society to move forward, not to mention the potential economic benefits for the city, drove him to help solve the city’s and state’s race problems. His leadership, along with African American leaders, such as the Reverend A. Leon Lowry, helped guide the peaceful integration of Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960. In a speech he gave to the Rotary Club of Tampa in July 1963, Fowler explained that “economic upgrading,” in the form of broader hiring practices among Tampa’s businesses, was the core of solving local race relations issues. This cause would eventually be taken up by Tampa's Bi-Racial Committee.

Fowler died at the age of 85, and at the time was still senior partner of the law firm he co-founded thirty-five years earlier. Newspapers across the state celebrated the life of the genteel southerner who did not hesitate to speak out against what he felt were unfair and illegal laws and traditions that plagued both the country and his adopted home.

Steven F. Lawson, former professor of History at the University of South Florida (1972-1992), compiled these materials as part of his research on the Civil Rights Movement and race relations in Tampa during the 1960s. The results of his research were published as "From Sit-in to Race Riot: Businessmen, Blacks, and the Pursuit of Moderation in Tampa, 1960-1967," in Southern Businessmen and Desegregation, 1982.

Subsequent to their respective donations, the papers of Steven Lawson and Cody Fowler, which are closely related in subject, were merged into a single collection. Years later, rather than attempt to extricate one collection from the other, Dr. Lawson and archivist Andrew Huse agreed to change the collection's name and amend its documentation.

Selected information in Biog/Hist Note prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk.


4.03 Linear Feet

15 boxes

Language of Materials



This collection contains materials separately created and collected by Cody Fowler and Steven Lawson. The materials have been combined into a single collection, and overlapping materials primarily document the civil rights of African American residents of Hillsborough County, FL.

Arrangement Note

Arranged by series.

Source of Acquisition

Steven Lawson

Cody Fowler

Method of Acquisition

Donated in conjunction with the Progress Village records.

Related Materials

Progress Village records, USF Libraries - Tampa Special Collections, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL.

The civil rights papers of Cody Fowler and Steven Lawson
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2024: Collection reprocessed and container list revised.

Repository Details

Part of the USF Libraries - Special Collections Repository

4202 East Fowler Ave.
Tampa FL 33620-5400 US