The Heritage Trail three-day festival

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The three-day celebration of St. Petersburg’s new African American Heritage Trail kicked off Friday at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, located at 2240 9th Ave. S.

For the past two years community members have been diligently working to provide St. Petersburg with a history of the local African American community.

“Many of us are not aware of the rich history in this community,” said Gwen Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association. “Many of us are not aware of the sacrifices and the contributions African Americans have made.”

After sitting down to a meal of authentic Louisiana gumbo, catered by the Deuces newest restaurant, Chief’s Creole Café, Reese took a moment at the VIP Garden Reception to honor and thank all the sponsors that made the Heritage Trail possible.

St. Petersburg College Associate Provost of the Midtown Campus, Tyrone Clinton, proudly spoke on behalf of the college that was a platinum sponsor for the celebration weekend event. Silver sponsors such as the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and bronze sponsor, Community Health Centers of Pinellas, came forward to receive acknowledgement for their contributions to the kickoff event.

“Without our primary sponsors, this weekend would not be taking place,” said Reese who continued to call up members of the community who had a hand in either planning the event or backing it monetarily.

Michael Labruyere a graphic designer out of Colorado designed the 20 markers that line the trail.  “Michael was invested in this project,” said Reese who acknowledged that Labruyere quickly realized how important the project was. “It’s something his spirit, his heart, as well as his creative talent were all invested in.”

The markers highlight former businesses and shops that used to be in the area during the time of segregation. Complete with period photos, they serve as a reminder of how it was for those who lived along 22nd Street South when St. Petersburg’s history wasn’t so rosy and as a time machine to the past for those too young to remember the rich history of those who came before them.

“We have the best African American heritage trail in the country,” said Reese. “The very best.”

Labruyere who plans to be very involved with the second part of the trail, Methodist Town, was presented with a plaque.

Jon Wilson, vice president of the African American Heritage Association and The Weekly Challenger historical column writer was also in attendance. His articles of the rich African-American history in St. Petersburg have engaged many and offered people the opportunity to learn about the history of the community.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” said Reese who believes it is the community’s duty to spread the word about the African-American history that took place here in St. Petersburg.  We have a lot to teach our children, a lot to teach the city.”

The second day of the festival brought out the Mayor Rick Kriseman to kick off a day of entertainment, guided tours, good food and wares from the plethora of vendors that showed up and a reunion of African-American nurses from 1947 to the present day. (The complete reunion will be in next week’s edition).

On Sunday the Singin’ and Swingin’ Sunday Gospel Brunch took place at Sylvia’s Restaurant. A jazz program presented by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association took place in the evening at the Manhattan Casino.

If you missed the three-day weekend full of history, culture and civic pride, don’t fret. The markers that line 22nd Street South and 9th Avenue South are a permanent part of the landscape to be enjoyed anytime you’d like.

The Heritage Trail depicts African American life from the time when the first black person, John Donaldson, came to Pinellas County back in 1868. It continues through the first 100 years of the African American presence in St. Petersburg.

The 22nd Street South Heritage Trail

The first trail focuses on the commercial corridor of 22nd Street S. and includes local businesses, such as Harden’s Grocery and the Sno-Peak Drive In, as well as local entertainment facilities like the Royal Theatre and the Manhattan Casino, which brought in nationally accredited jazz and Gospel musicians including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, James Brown, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson just to name a few.

The 22nd Street South rail also features Mercy Hospital, one of the first African-American hospitals in the area, and a number of medical offices built and occupied by doctors who played a significant role in breaking the color barrier and promoting the Civil Rights Movement in St. Petersburg. The 22nd street Trail is approximately 1.25 miles and includes 10 trail stops.

The 9th Avenue South Heritage Trail

The 9th Avenue Heritage Trail focuses on the educational and religious institutions of the neighborhood that centered along 9th Avenue South. With nine historic African-American churches along the trail, 9th Avenue South served as the religious center of the community.

In addition to these churches, stops include the recently restored Jordan Elementary School, the oldest remaining historic African-American school in the city. Other sites along the trail include civic clubs such as the Fannye Ayer Ponder Council House and the Pallbearer’s Hall, as well as Happy Worker’s Day Nursery. This trail is approximately 1.25 miles long with 10 trail stops.

The complete guide along with an interactive map of the trail is available at www.stpete.org/AAHTrails

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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