Omali Yeshitela and the tearing down of city hall’s racist mural

BY JABAAR EDMOND, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — It was 1966 when Joseph Waller, now known as Omali Yeshitela, and other young activists stormed into downtown St. Petersburg and ripped down the racist mural displayed at city hall that depicted black minstrels playing music for white people on Pass-a-Grille Beach.

Fast forward Feb. 4, 2016, during an open session, city hall exploded while many came out to argue against the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area plan, which would distribute nearly $500,000 to south St. Petersburg neighborhoods.

Members of the Uhuru Movement came to city hall with a different agenda, an agenda that was rooted in the history of St. Pete and deep within the history of the building itself.

Making a statement that the city cannot move forward until it properly address the mistakes of the past, the protesters could be heard saying: “This is not the way you get things done” and “If it wasn’t for protests like these, the old mural would still be there and we would not be allowed in this building today!”

Speaking on the many nonviolent protests that led to desegregation and other civil rights laws shows how soon we forget that the steps that were taken in the past are still relevant now and affects the future.

Yeshitela served two and a half years in jail and prison for tearing down the mural, and was stripped of his voting rights until they were restored some 34 years later.

He said an apology should have been made to the African community and a replacement mural should be created by the black community.

Yeshitela, chairman of the African People Socialist Party, and his group have been demonized in the community for their radical views and militant stance, but you would be hard pressed to find any civil rights group in the community that has been equally as active in many issues. They are made up of a diverse group of men, women and children of all colors, handicapped and able-bodied alike.

Yeshitela has been invited to have a seat at the table on discussions for replacing the mural, and rightfully so.  He should be recognized for a lifetime of service to this community. Despite any and all controversies, the civil rights leader has remained consistent with his leadership to raise his community out of poverty, which cannot be said for many other leaders or groups.

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