By Jacqueline Williams Hubbard, Esq., ASALH President
In the coming weeks, Pinellas County citizens will acknowledge the history of lynchings of Black Americans in our community with a ceremony led by the Community Remembrance Project Coalition (CRPC). This Coalition is also called “Pinellas Remembers.”
A lynching memorial marker, tall and strong, will soon be erected at the actual site in St. Petersburg, where one known lynching occurred. On Nov. 12, 1914, a crowd of at least 1,500 people watched the lynching of John Evans, a Black man.
Evans was accused, but never tried or convicted, of murdering a white Pinellas County resident and assaulting his wife. The crowd watched excitedly as he hung from a light pole with a rope around his neck. Before his death, his body was riddled with bullet holes. He died hanging on that light pole.
Parker Watson, also a Black man, was lynched on May 9, 1926. His body was found on a county road near Clearwater. He had been forcibly removed from police custody by a group of armed, masked men as he was being transported to the county jail.
His body was later found with five bullet holes and what appeared to be acid burns on his face. No one was ever arrested or charged in Watson’s murder. Other lynchings include those of John Thomas in 1905 and J.O. “Honey Baby” Moses in 1937.
BACKGROUND: The CRPC was formed out of the efforts of many different groups. One early group included Andrew Walker, Cheryl Tinsdall, Drs. Julie Armstrong and Thomas Hallock, Attorney Yate Cutliffe and myself, all members of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.
This group wanted to embody the teachings of Bishop Michael Curry, Prelate of the American Episcopal Church. In 2017, Bishop Curry called for racial reconciliation.
The St. Petersburg Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH) joined to support this effort. Early on, the congregational group and ASALH met with Episcopal Church leaders and the City of St. Petersburg.
In 2018, Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) was contacted. Shortly after that, EJI sent a list of other people and groups who had expressed an interest in a lynching marker or memorial. All on the EJI list were contacted and invited to a meeting held at St. Augustine’s.
By April of 2019, a wide array of Pinellas County individuals and organizations came together to form CRPC, chaired by Gwendolyn Reese, president, the African American Heritage Association, Inc and myself. The Community Remembrance Project Coalition’s mission is to bear witness to the legacy of racial terror, epitomized by lynchings in America.
The Coalition generally meets twice a month and operates through committees. This method has led to high efficiency and highly involved volunteers.
To date, the CRPC has more than 80 members. The St. Pete community response to this project has been absolutely inspiring and overwhelmingly positive. A $16,000 donation came from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Inc., a $10,000 donation came from the Tampa Bay Rays and two local individuals gave personal contributions.
In addition to erecting the lynching marker, with the support of EJI, the Coalition is sponsoring an essay contest for Pinellas County High School students this spring. These contests— one writing and one art — allow students to explore this year’s contest theme: “The History of Racial Inequities in Our Community and Country,” through creative mediums. The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 15.
General contest information:
- Entry Form Deadline: Feb. 15
- Art/Essay Submission Deadline: Mar. 30
- Essay Guidelines
- Art Guidelines
- Multiple prizes of $250, $1000, and $1500 will be awarded to the winners.
The truth-telling must never stop.
RACIAL RECONCILIATION: With knowledge of our history, we can hope for understanding. With understanding, we can seek acknowledgment of our failures and successes. With acknowledgment and truth-telling, we can seek forgiveness. With forgiveness we can seek racial reconciliation.
Due to the pandemic, the CRPC plans to have a small initial unveiling of the Lynching Memorial Monument and a larger unveiling ceremony later in the year. For more information, visit www.pinellasremembers.org.
Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard graduated from the Boston University Law School. She is currently the president of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.