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Archive for April 2021

Lectors Return to Ybor City at J.C. Newman Factory

From “As We Heard It” by Patrick Manteiga in the April 2, 2021 edition

Eric Newman reads about his family’s history at the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory.

The J.C. Newman El Reloj Cigar Factory turned 111 years old on Wednesday, March 31. When it opened in 1910, the Tampa Tribune described it as the “largest and finest cigar factory in the world.”
As part of the celebration, the Newman family invited several people to be lectors and read to the workers in the hand-rolling section of the factory.
The lectors of old were hired by a committee of workers to read news and literature during the work day as a form of entertainment.
The lectors were as vital a part of the cigar factory as the tobacco. The lector system was a hard-won workers’ right and strikes would ensue if that right was challenged. In 1931, after a bitter strike, the lector system in Tampa was finally dismantled as manufacturers blamed them for inciting workers to strike.
My grandfather, Victoriano Manteiga, came to America from Cuba in 1914 to accepted a job as the lector for the Morgan Cigar Factory and remained there until 1920 or 1921.
In a moment that could only happen in Tampa, on Wednesday, when I was reading at El Reloj, Maura Barrios was sitting in the audience listening to my voice. Her family – grandfather and grandmother – worked at the Morgan Cigar Factory during the period when my grandfather was lector. It gave me goosebumps to think as I was reading to her in a cigar factory over 100 years after my grandfather Victoriano read to her ancestors in the Morgan Cigar Factory. Once again, only in Tampa and only within Tampa’s Latin community could this happen.
We appreciate the Newman family for giving us the opportunity to participate and, at least for a moment, stand in my grandfather’s shoes.
The other guest lectors were Eric and Bobby Newman, Mario Nuñez from the “Tampa Natives Show,” Manny Leto from Tampa Bay History Center, historian Maura Barrios, Ybor City Museum Society President Chantal Hevia and Columbia Restaurant Group patron Richard Gonzmart.
The Newmans have done a fantastic job of restoring the building. It’s a working museum with a beautiful gift shop. If you haven’t made it there yet, you should take one of the guided tours, which are offered Monday, Tuesday Thursday and Friday mornings at 9:30 and 11:30. The hour-and-15-minute tour is $15 for adults and $12 for seniors, students and veterans and can be booked at jcnewman.com.

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