The Tampa River Walk

Cody Fowler

Cody Fowler (1892-1978)

 

Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk

For further information, contact Rodney Kite-Powell, RKP@tampabayhistorycenter.org

Born in Arlington, Tennessee, Cody Fowler arrived in Tampa 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 Americans 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 in 1950 – 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 of 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 A. Leon Lowry, helped guide the peaceful integration of Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960. In a speech he gave to the Tampa Rotary in July 1963, Fowler explained the “economic upgrading” of Tampa’s blacks was at the core of the solution. That upgrading would have to take the form of broader hiring practices among Tampa’s businesses, a cause taken up by the 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.