ST. PETERSBURG – The Jordan Park Projects Nostalgic Association (JPPNA) held their annual Black History Month Program entitled “Pioneers and Trailblazers” Tues., Feb. 22. The Enoch Davis Recreation Center played host to 12 former Jordan Park Projects residents who were honored based on the memory of the trailblazing pioneer who helped built a large portion of St. Petersburg, Elder Jordan, Sr.
Unsure of his birthplace, Jordan, Sr. was born in 1848 into slavery. He was manumitted at the age of 15 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation Emancipation in 1863.
Leaving behind a successful farm in North Florida in fear of reprisal for hiding a black man from white vigilantes, he and his wife along with their children settled in St. Pete in 1904. He sold fruit and vegetables, owned a livery stable and operated a bus line that carried African-American passengers all over the Tampa Bay area long before there were bridges.
This self-made man bought land by bidding on tax deeds, and he and his five sons: Elder, Jr., Basha, McKinley, Christopher and Harry built single-family homes, rooming houses, opened Jordan Beach, the first black beach in St. Pete, and cleared the land on 22nd Street, which paved the way for other businesses to open, many with his financial help.
In 1925, he and his sons contracted with R.L. Sharpe to build a 12,000 square foot two-story building on the 600 block of 22nd Street. Originally meant to be apartments and a service station, it came to be known as the Jordan Dance Hall. By the mid-1940s, it was renamed the Manhattan Casino.
In a personal effort to assist low-income residents, he donated land to the city that eventually became Jordan Park public housing.
The legacy of Jordan, Sr. and the great people who once lived in the housing project is what the nostalgic association endeavors to keep alive.
One of this year’s honorees was Minson Rubin, who was born in 1944. His mother was a bundle-clothing laborer who would take home clothes to iron. His father worked at the post office and in construction.
Rubin graduated from Gibbs High School in 1963, and upon returning from college he began teaching. In his 33 years as an educator, he retired from Bay Point Middle School.
Four years ago while exhibiting his Gibbs High School memorabilia, he fell and has not been able to display his memories around town anymore. Fortunately, the Midtown campus of St. Petersburg College currently has on display one of his exhibits featuring photos and information on historic 22nd Street, Jordan Park Projects and Gibbs High School.
A founding member of JPPNA, he has proven to be a wealth of information. He said that in 1941 when the Jordan Park Projects were complete, white residents would come to see how blacks lived in the newly constructed public housing. Black families would open up their homes so that strangers could get a glimpse of their lives.
Rubin also accepted plaques for longtime residents Ethel Johnson and James Oliver, Sr., who were honored posthumously.
Walter and Dorothy Jones were both honored for being Jordan Park residents who went on to do great things. They met at Gibbs more than 60 years ago. He said they were married in 1951 and she said 1952, either way she was still in high school. Six children came out of this blessed union.
He joined the military and went on to play in the Negro Major Leagues for the New York Black Yankees for three years. After life on the baseball diamond he became a mason contractor.
An athlete in her own right, Dorothy played softball, basketball and football with the boys while at Gibbs. Known to many as “Baby Sister,” she was given the moniker when her older sister invited everyone over to see “my baby sister,” she retired from both Florida Power and the health department.
Leroy Barton was there to receive his reward. His family was the first to move into the phase two of Jordan Park, competed in the fall of 1941. His mother was a domestic for private homes and a hotel, while his father travelled to Detroit to find work.
The rest of the family moved to Detroit to be with the father, who worked for General Motors, but his mother decided that the cold Michigan winters were not for her and moved back to St. Pete.
Barton graduated from Gibbs in 1952, went into the army and fought in the Korean War. He later took up residents in New York and worked for the transit authority for 35 years. After retirement, Barton moved back to the Sunshine City.
The late Levi Valentine was honored posthumously. His son and grandchildren were there to accept his plague. Born in 1932, he graduated from Gibbs in 1951. He was a cook in the Korean War and went on to attend Tuskegee University.
He worked a coroner for 46 years at Bay Front Medical Center where he performed autopsies. His son, Rodney Valentine, said he represented classes at Gibbs by cooking delicious fare, such as crab shala and ribs with his own barbeque sauce at various functions.
“I truly miss my father,” stated Rodney, who said his parents met at Gibbs.
George and Vinne Hurst were also honored posthumously. Ruben Mayes, JPPNA Chaplin, couldn’t say enough good words about his in-laws.
Mayes grew up knowing them as a child and eventually marrying their daughter Ruthie.
“The greatest things about them was that they had a community house,” he said, explaining that even though they had nine kids of their own, any child who was hungry knew they could get a meal at the Hurst household.
Mayes remembered their house being one of the only places in the area you could go and watch television. All the neighborhood children would pile in and popcorn would always be popping on the stove.
“If you wanted to have a good laugh and you were down…it was a house of laughter,” said Mayes. “That was their thing, to make you happy.”
The couple moved to St. Pete from Georgia and was married for more than 50 years. He worked for the railroad for 38 years and only missed one day of work.
Bessie Wainwright, née Perry, was full of smiles to receive her plaque. Born in St. Pete, her family was one of the founding families to move into Jordan Park. On a cook and garbage man salary, her parents raised 11 children. She married in 1950 and had 12 children of her own. Along with her kids, she raised many children in the community and gave guidance to each of them, including Rubin. A member of Greater Grand Central Missionary Baptist Church, her brother is Pastor Robert Perry.
Eddie Oliver was there to honor his uncle Ed Charles. Now living in Daytona Beach, Charles is best known for being a third basemen for the New York Mets. Born in 1933, he attended Gibbs High School where he was an outstanding two-sport athlete.
He was offered a football scholarship to Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman College, but baseball was his choice. He signed a professional contract with The Boston Braves organization in 1952 before he could complete his senior year of high school. He later received an equivalency certificate from The Missouri Department of Education in 1964.
Charles was drafted into the Army in 1953 where he played both football and baseball and was voted the Western Conference Most Valuable Player in 1954. He played with the Kansas City A’s for six seasons and retired a Met after winning the World Series in 1969.
He became a promotions director for Buddah Records and was awarded a Gold Record for promoting the pop hit “Ooh Child” by “The Fire Stair Steps.” Now living in New York City, he is writing is autobiography.
After the ceremony, honorees and guess enjoyed a full on soul food dinner with fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and plenty of sweets.
JPPNA is a 501 (C) (3) nonprofit organization. Their annual scholarship giveaway is funded by donations and fundraisers. If you’d like to donate or become a member, please call (727) 408-4671. Anyone can join.