ST. PETERSBURG —The voices of outcry and protest have still not been silenced even after the four to three decision by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority (SPHA) to evict the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum from its current location at 2240 9th Ave. S.
The museum, which some say is a cornerstone of the 22nd Street revitalization efforts, is a depository of black history, art and culture, and is scheduled to close in six months.
The community came together at the museum again in protest Sat., Jan. 31. It was a time of prayers, personal reflections, protest songs and shared memories. It culminated with the capacity crowd assembling outside the building forming a human chain-link encircling the building, holding hands in support. The song “We Shall Not be Moved” was sung softly by some and filtered through the multi-racial crowd.
People from all walks of life weighed in on SPHA’s decision to kick its current tenants to the curb.
“The museum has been a mainstay in the community. It has been a reason for the revitalization and to close it would be unthinkable. This is not a thing that will improve community relations,” Cindy Stovall.
Local celebrity Sterling Powell said, “If we lose this it would be a huge cultural loss to the community.”
Grassroots activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, who worked to get the museum up and going, took to the microphone and expressed her disappointment in the way the city has historically treated African Americans.
“The interstate destroyed 22nd Street. Then government decided they wanted baseball, so they destroyed my community with the dome. The devil is a liar that I would give up anything else. We need this; our young people need it,” said Lassiter, who was also part of the task force that helped to start the museum.
SPHA owns the building and the land that the Woodson Museum is housed in, but the current administration is a non-profit, tax-exempt entity that is operating under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All artifacts and the actual name cannot be used by anyone but the current board.
“I live in Tampa, but the black community extends beyond [the borders]. The black community needs this for the kids to see positive influences and see where they came from,” said Cassandra Pinckney.
“It’s important to our community and a diamond in the rough. It’s a gift to the community; we need to take care of it,” said Danyelle Green.
“The museum keeps neighborhoods strong by giving heritage, dignity, and pride,” averred Glenn Wilder.
School Board member Rene Flowers lived in historic Jordan Park and her history along with the history of the building goes hand in hand.
“I actually lived in Jordan Park…The building that you are in was the first Meals On Wheels building where my grandmother Mrs. Simpson and Mrs. Alexander actually cooked food on that side,” she said pointing to the current kitchen.
Flowers said that seniors would convene where the museum sits for day-to-day activities and share with one another their historical perspectives and to teach the younger generation their roots.
She said that because she knows where she comes from is the reason why she is so passionate about the building.
“There have been exhibits of all walks of life in this building, poetry, art. Children have come through this building to see the historical relevance African Americans have for St. Petersburg, a place where once I couldn’t sit on the green benches downtown,” said Flowers, who was influential in starting the museum.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board Member Kurt Donley said, “There’s always something good going on here. For the Housing Authority just to shut the doors is insane. They have not given a reason except that they can. It just didn’t add up.”
The issue has resulted in a division in the city; on one side the SPHA and on the other side the Dr. Carter G. Woodson board members and friends, under the leadership of board chair Terri Lipsey-Scott.
Both sides have support from the community and political factions. There have been insults, unwarranted accusations and hints of personal agendas taking precedent over the main issue of having a functioning, black museum for one of Florida’s largest cites.
The clock is ticking on the future of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum being housed in the old Jordan Park Community Center and management office; however, in her closing remarks museum chair Lipsey-Scott read from a plaque unveiled by the housing authority in 2006.
“This building was dedicated for a specific reason, to a specific group, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum,” she read.