Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association St. Petersburg
BY NICOLE SLAUGHTER GRAHAM, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Last month, Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association St. Petersburg, kicked off a virtual event on St. Petersburg’s Black history by reciting the late Rosalie Peck’s poem, “Remembering 22nd Street the Way We Were.” Rich in imagery and memory, the poem paints a picture of the historic 22nd Street South during segregation, when it was the Black community’s hub for business and entertainment.
The event, which was hosted by Tombolo Books, garnered 70 attendees interested in learning about St. Petersburg’s Black history from Reese and Jon Wilson, the association’s vice president.
Initially scheduled for an hour, it lasted 90 minutes at the attendees’ request to continue the conversation.
Thanks to its popularity, Tombolo Books and the African American Heritage Association are partnering for a monthly Black history event called “Community Conversations.”
“The African American Heritage Association is so excited about the partnership with Tombolo Books,” said Reese. “Having these conversations is an excellent way of sharing the rich history of our community with a larger audience.”
The series will focus on local St. Petersburg Black history. The first event, which was held this Wednesday, centered on the Melrose Clubhouse, a local historic landmark that “served as an epicenter for African-American life and culture during and after segregation.”
Melrose Clubhouse was home to many civic and community groups. It served as a catalyst for many firsts for the local Black community, including the first Black Eagle Scout.
The clubhouse currently sits on the Melrose Elementary property and is owned by the Pinellas County School Board. Melrose Elementary is undergoing an extensive renovation, which places the clubhouse in jeopardy of being demolished or renovated in a way that could minimize its historical significance.
Reese was joined by panelists Veatrice Farrell, executive director of Deuces Live, Inc., and local historian Monica Kyle.
For Tombolo Books co-owner Alsace Walentine, hosting Community Conversations allows the store to live out a core part of its mission.
“Ms. Gwen is such a wealth of knowledge, and we’ve worked with her several times before, so we knew this series was going to be excellent,” Walentine said. “It’s important to learn the African American history of this area. Part of Tombolo Books’ mission is to highlight marginalized voices, and African American voices have often been marginalized from many different discourses, which is part of the reason this series is important to us to host.”
The Community Conversations series will include everything from discussions to documentary screenings. All events will focus on St. Petersburg’s rich Black history, highlighting how that history influences the current and future manifestations of the city.
The events are generally held on the third Wednesday of each month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., though please note that the November date and duration is different.
Upcoming Community Conversations:
Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. EST – The Boston brothers’ “Black Pioneers of the Sunshine City” documentary and discussion (90 minutes)
Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. EST – Pinellas Remembers: The Lynching Memorial Dedication
Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. EST – A Conversation with Dr. Charles Dew, author of “The Making of a Racist”
To learn more and register for events, visit Tombolo Books’ events page.