Siobhan Monique comes full circle with Williams Park Festival this Saturday

On April 22, Siobhan Monique will command the famous Williams Park bandshell and one-half of the grounds when the Motherland Music Festival takes place from 4-8 p.m.

ST. PETERSBURG — Some 106 years ago, in the City of St. Petersburg, then-Mayor Al Lang endeavored to regulate the proliferation of benches of various colors and sizes that dotted the city landscape, especially in the emerging downtown area. Benches lined the bustling Central Avenue corridor and were present in the city’s prized Williams Park (formerly City Park), named for city co-founder John Constantine Williams Sr.

Lang’s 1917 bench ordinance required all public benches to be painted hunter green. The city would become known as the “City of Green Benches.” Only some people, however, were welcome to sit and enjoy the green benches.

Chlotiel Cooper, like many African Americans in the 1950s, worked as a domestic. She lived in segregated St. Pete because she had to. She worked outside the redline, requiring her to traverse Williams Park, which in 1954 had become the city’s mass transit bus hub. Her home was in Jordan Park, a well-maintained public housing complex too far from the park to walk comfortably. She would be compelled to stand while waiting for her bus to carry her back to the safety of her people.

Siobhan Monique is the founding artist of Ancestral Funk.

Cooper was a tall, graceful, beautiful, gentle, and dignified woman. However tired she was after a day of labor, and however empty the park may have been at a given time, she was not allowed to rest on the green benches for fear of admonishment, if not possible, arrest.

According to local historians, Black people could sit on the benches as of 1945 without fear of arrest; however, decades of being subjected to de-facto regulation would take as many years to become a commonplace civil right.

Cooper did not live to see the changes that would come from the Civil Rights Movement. She would not experience the subsequent dismantling of the green benches that went away, not by an act of civil rights, but by the city’s decision to remove the thousands of benches that once served as conversation pits for mostly elderly white tourists.

The city wanted to evoke a more youthful vibe as tourism began to be the primary focus of city leadership. The benches were removed in the 1960s.

On April 22, Cooper’s great-granddaughter, Siobhan Monique, will command the famous Williams Park bandshell and one-half of the grounds when the Motherland Music Festival takes place from 4-8 p.m. The festival is cathartic for Siobhan, who would not have been allowed to sit in the park nearly 80 years ago, let alone host an event.

Siobhan Monique, the founding artist of Ancestral Funk TM, Inc., is heavily influenced by her uncle, Buster Cooper, a 10-year member of the world-famous Duke Ellington Band. Chlotiel, Buster and the band all suffered the sting of racism and the indignities that came with it. Times have changed for the better, even though much work remains.

The Motherland Music Festival is for all citizens and visitors in St. Pete and greater Tampa Bay. The kid-friendly event celebrates the diversity that is St. Pete in the 21st century. From food trucks to VIP seating and dining, to ethnic dancers and fire dancers, stilt walkers, to musical acts, the festival will surely offer something for everyone.

Learn more about sponsorship and ticket options for the Motherland Music Festival at

One Reply to “Siobhan Monique comes full circle with Williams Park Festival this Saturday”

  1. Maya Thomas says:

    I remember the green benches as a little girl moving here with my parents from Alabama. Now we need them back to remind us of how far we’ve come and what we had to go though for change. Lord we have a lot of work to do. “In the mind of white people” someone had to come up with that idea as to say, you had to be white to sit on the green bench!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top