St. Petersburg Black History Preservation Drive on Nov. 9 at Carter G. Woodson

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – With plans for the redevelopment of Tropicana field still making headlines, a recent ABC Action News report linked the possibility of increased stadium attendance to the new, high-priced residential dwellings being built — when area employee Robert Choquotte (who works at midtown’s McAuley’s Pub), stated, “We’re gonna have a whole lot more people downtown so the attendance will go up guaranteed.”

Even if this is true, the question remains: Who will gain from the redevelopment of the Trop? Who will live in these high-priced homes, move into the quickly gentrifying neighborhoods and ultimately hold the future of the city in their pockets?

Many of St. Petersburg’s African-American residents are suspect, and for good reason. Deeply held feelings of betrayal over the displacement of families in the Gas Plant district and unfilled promises linger even as neighborhoods continue to change. Many wonder if history will repeat itself.

The truth of how past city policies have impacted where African Americans have been allowed to live, play, and even visit, has long impacted the lives of St. Pete’s black residents – largely unreported and out of the view of most of the city’s residents.

In a recent letter to St. Pete residents, Tampa Bay Times’ executive editor Mark Katches wrote: “News coverage for much of the 20th century underrepresented black residents. We believe that it’s important that the community — and our newsroom — understand its history as the city looks ahead to another wave of redevelopment.”

One coalition concerned about how the whole history of St. Pete has been, or not been, presented and preserved has formed to impact how the city’s true stories are told.

Recently members of the University of South Florida’s Neighborhood News Bureau, the Tampa Bay Times, The Weekly Challenger, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum and the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg FL, Inc. met to discuss how the stories and history of St. Pete’s African-American community have been collected and communicated.

From that meeting came an initiative focused on telling the real stories of segregated St. Petersburg. Named “Tourist Town,” the project will offer St. Pete residents an opportunity to change how the narrative of St. Pete’s last 90 years is told.

Gwen Reese, director of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, Florida, shared, “The partners are collaborating on the Tourist Town project with a primary goal of collecting oral histories, photos and other archival material from long-time residents to tell the story of life was like here from the 1930s to the turn of the 21st century.”

The first opportunity for residents to share their memories is on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 10-5 p.m., at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum during the St. Petersburg Black History Preservation Drive.

The event is open to any long-term resident who has memories or photos of historic St. Pete. Participants are encouraged to bring photos, videos, recordings, letters and keepsakes. Audio and video recordings will be captured, and scanners will be on hand so that residents will be able to leave with their mementos.

While reservations are not necessary, if you would like to reserve a specific time slot, please contact NNB@usf.edu or call 727-612-7998.

The Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is located at 2240 9th Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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