The City of St. Petersburg held its ninth annual Black History Month flag-raising ceremony on Feb. 1 at City Hall. Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum of Florida (center) said, ‘Trust and believe, our stories will be told without compromise or suppression.’
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL | Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The City of St. Petersburg celebrates Black History Month yearly with a flag-raising ceremony, paying homage to the father of Black history – Dr. Carter G. Woodson. One question loomed at the ninth annual ceremony on Thursday morning at City Hall: Will this be the last flag raised over City Hall in St. Pete to honor Black History Month?
A bill proposed by a Florida legislator, HB 901, states that any flag depicting a “racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint” would be banned from any state or local government building, including public schools and universities.”
If passed, this bill could put an end to raising the Black History and Pride Month flags over City Hall.
“Today we are faced with the potential of criminalization of gatherings like this for raising a flag in honor of the father of Black history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and Black History Month, for which we will not be deterred,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum of Florida.
This time last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis was crusading to suppress teaching Black history while simultaneously banning books.
“We can’t help but wonder why the collective stories of African-American contributions to this nation’s greatness are so troubling to our oppressors,” exclaimed Scott. “Why must attempts by African Americans to tell their stories, celebrate their successes and elevate their excellence be perceived as threatening? But rest assured, the Woodson will never be deterred by acts of autocrats.”
Since the last flag-raising ceremony, the Woodson partnered with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation to create Freedom Schools, with a curriculum focusing on Black people’s contributions to the United States.
“The efforts of those who came before us will not be lost due to cowardice,” she said. “Trust and believe, our stories will be told without compromise or suppression.”
Mayor Ken Welch echoed Scott’s sentiments when he said St. Pete is focused on honoring Black history “no matter what happens in Tallahassee.”
“You can change how we celebrate, but you can’t change our core beliefs,” stated the mayor. “We’ve been doing this so long in the city, it’s not an issue. It reflects what our city is about.”
Welch’s vision to make the Woodson African American Museum the cornerstone of one of the most extensive redevelopment plans in the country suggests that a Black history museum is no longer an afterthought but the catalyst for inclusion.
“We take pride in residing in a city where the creation of a properly constructed African-American museum that will appropriately preserve, present, interpret, celebrate and educate others about the untold history of African Americans is paramount, because indeed, Black history matters,” averred Scott.
Welch reflected on the history of St. Petersburg’s Black communities and promised to right the wrongs perpetrated by the city more than 40 years ago in the Historic Gas Plant neighborhood.
“In the heart of our city, a tangible symbol of this change is unfolding in the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant neighborhood,” he said. “Here, we not only seek to redress promises made decades ago, but we aspire to forge new opportunities and hope for new generations and providentially. With the approval of council, this site will soon be the new home for the Woodson African American Museum of Florida.”
Welch mentioned that a delegation from the city will be at the capital next week to urge legislators to address “real problems.” In meeting with homeowners this week, he heard cries of neighborhoods being flooded because of rising sea levels, folks worried about affordable housing and being unable to afford flood and homeowners insurance.
“So, there are some real issues that I would hope the legislature would focus on and not trying to regulate how folks celebrate who we are,” he said.