ST. PETERSBURG – The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section held a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the reopening of the historic Fannye Ayer Ponder Council House last Saturday, April 29.
More than 100 people crowded in at 1835 Ninth Ave. S to witness the reopening of the historic landmark that played a critical role for women of color before, during and after the Civil Rights Movement.
The original building was constructed in 1940. After being declared a historic landmark in 1991, the structure underwent renovation in 2016 made possible by state-funded dollars secured by then State Rep. Darryl Rouson.
“As I look around and see all the strong black women that are here, I just want to say thank you,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch.
As an ambulance with sirens blaring drove by, Pinellas County Urban League President & CEO Watson L. Haynes II used his humor to further punctuate the significance of the Ponder Council House.
“The ambulance is coming because they couldn’t believe it’s so many people here,” said Haynes. He then reflected on his childhood.
“The joy of my life was every Thanksgiving. My mother was a cook for Head Start, but every Thanksgiving Mrs. Ponder would come to the house to pick up her turkey and her collard greens for as long as she lived and as long as she could make it to the house. I love this building; I love what it meant.”
NCNW historian Cynthia Glenn talked about the history of the house, explaining that seven years before the Council House was even constructed, the seed for what was to come would be planted by Dr. Mary McCloud Bethune in 1935 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as the director of affairs of the National Youth Administration as a special advisor.
Dr. Bethune was close friends with the Ponder family and treated Fannye as a daughter. After the young Fannye returned from a trip to Washington with Dr. Bethune, she was inspired and started planting the seed for what would eventually become the NCNW of St. Petersburg by drawing together like-minded women such as Olive B. Mclin, Mary Louise McRae, Ethel Monroe, Carolyn Stitt and Carrie Mae Newkirk.
These women would have a major impact on their community in all aspects of life.
The Council House commemorates the location where Ponder established a local affiliate of the NCNW, the purpose of which was to effect the integration of African Americans into the political, educational, economic, social and cultural life of St. Petersburg.
The building not only provided a meeting place for their group but served to fill an unmet need in the African-American community. It was the place where community fundraising activities could be held and a place for African Americans to meet for recreation, business and civic purposes in a segregated society.
The Council House has also been known as the Southside Community Center and has been used as a meeting place by several sororities, the Elks, Concerned Citizens, the Gulf Coast Lung Association, Gibbs High School chorus, both political parties and the NAACP.
Ponder came to St. Petersburg from Ocala in 1925 with her husband Dr. James Ponder who was appointed as city physician for the African-American community the following year. She served as the vice president of the NCNW, founded McCleod Bethune.
A graduate of Florida A&M, Ponder taught at Gibbs High School, organized the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Council of Negro Women, organized the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, worked as a Republican committeewoman and helped build the Melrose Clubhouse.
Her accomplishments in over 40 years of service to her community and nation led to the declaration of Fannye Ayer Ponder Day by former St. Petersburg Mayor Herman Goldner in 1972.
The Council House was originally a one-story L-shaped frame bungalow with wood siding. In 1952, the southwest portion of the structure was demolished and a masonry addition was constructed. Both sections of the structure were stuccoed.
For more information about future events at the Fannye A. Ponder Council House, contact NCNW at (727) 896-6556.
Much of the historical information was provided by the City of St. Petersburg.