February’s ‘Community Conversations’ to coincide with the unveiling of the Lynching Memorial

By Nicole Slaughter Graham, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Each month, the African American Heritage Association partners with Tombolo Books for a virtual event called Community Conversations. Each month brings a theme that provides the public with rich, lively conversation on a historical topic of local interest.

In recent months, conversations have centered on the Melrose Clubhouse, the documentary “Black Pioneers of the Sunshine City” and Pinellas County schools’ desegregation.

This month, the Community Conversations topic is “Racial Terror Lynching,” which coincides with the unveiling of St. Petersburg’s lynching memorial scheduled for the end of the month. The event itself will not be made public in an abundance of caution, but Pinellas Remembers Community Remembrance Project Coalition is hoping to provide a virtual screening option.

In partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Community Remembers Project, Pinellas Remembers worked alongside several community organizations to ensure that the murder of John Evans — a Black man lynched in 1914 by a 1,500-member mob of white men, women, and possibly children — was property commemorated and remembered. Evans was accused of murdering his boss, Edward Sherman, and attacking Sherman’s wife, Mary.

“We do not want to merely put up a marker,” said Coalition Co-Chair Gwendolyn Reese. “This is the first step in educating communities about racial terror lynching. We hope the effort will lead to truth and reconciliation, and we hope the memorial will foster constructive, truthful conversations.”

The site where Evans was lynched is currently city-owned property. Reese said the mayor’s office and particularly Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin were instrumental in ensuring the memorial could be placed without issue.

Additionally, the Foundation for the Healthy St. Petersburg provided Pinellas Remembers with a grant to support the work. The Tampa Bay Rays Foundation provided funds for an art contest to help educate area youth, and the EJI hosted a writing contest.

During this month’s Community Conversation, the three known lynchings in St. Petersburg will be discussed. Special guest Jane McNeil, a scholar who spent her youth in St. Petersburg, will showcase the research she has been working on since she returned to school in adulthood.

The research, which was spurred by a play her mother wrote on the Evans lynching, lends to the possibility that Evans did not murder Sherman. McNeil’s family had strong ties in St. Petersburg. Her parents and grandparents were long-time residents in the area. Her grandparents were alive and would have remembered Evans’ lynching.

The next Community Conversations will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. Visit the Tombolo Books “Events” page, scroll down to the Community Conversations event, and click the Google Forms link to register.

To reach Nicole Slaughter Graham, email nslaughtergraham@theweeklychallenger.com

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