ST. PETERSBURG – This year marks the 50th anniversary of 12 black police officers that took a stand against Jim Crow laws and sued the City of St. Petersburg for discrimination—and won.
In recent years the community has celebrated these brave officers, now known as the Courageous 12, who fought for the right to serve and protect their city, but little has been said about the women who stood silently behind their husbands in the fight for justice.
That was until last Wed., Dec. 9 when the Jordan Park Nostalgic Association, Inc. (JPNA) held a ceremony at Chief’s Creole Café, in the heart of the Deuce, to recognize the wives of the officers, who along with their husbands, endured the injustices and humiliation this city had to offer its black police officers.
“From the beginning to the end, I was with my husband all the way,” said Omega Nero to a Bay News 9 reporter. Her late husband, Horace Nero, was one of the Courageous 12. “He was just determined. He was fed up with the foolishness that was going on. And I told him, I saw prayer is the key to the kingdom. Whatever is going to be will be, it’s going to be alright.”
It was 1965. Racial tensions were high in St. Petersburg when a group of black police officers filed a lawsuit against the city demanding the right to patrol the whole city, not just the segregated areas they were allowed to live in.
Backed by two lawyers, James B. Sanderlin and Frank Peterman Sr., the Courageous 12 stood up for their civil rights and paved the long and winding road to equality for African-American police officers all over the country.
Members of the JPNA along with the two remaining members of the Courageous 12, Leon Jackson and Freddie Crawford, helped contact the family members of their former co-workers who have passed on for the celebration.
“They got in contact with every last family and they pulled the celebration together in less than a month,” said current JPNA President, Brenda Gilstrap.
Perhaps it is hard for the younger generation to fathom the cruelty black police officers had to endure on the job, but what was perhaps more heart wrenching was watching their families endure the same treatment.
“Our officers suffered a lot more injustices than you could even possibly imagine. What made it worst was when they came home. The wives and children had to learn how to cope with that. It’s hard to tell a child it’s OK to smile when they see people passing by the house and throwing things at them, calling them the N-word. Those were the kinds of things that these women had to do in order to maintain a home,” said Gilstrap.
Retired Chief of Police Dr. Goliath Davis, III, retired Assistant Chief Cedric Gordon and retired Sergeant Al White sent their regrets that they could not attend the celebration, but they constructed a heartfelt letter that was read to the wives and family members.
“Please know that we remain eternally grateful to you and your husbands for paving the way for us and all who followed them, to forego the injustices and humiliation of Jim Crow in the City of St. Petersburg and its institution of justice, the St. Petersburg Police Department…” Gilstrap read.
In the letter it was made clear that Davis committed himself to ensuring the legacy of the Courageous 12 with the support of Gordon and White.
“We will never forget our careers were successful in large part because of your and the Courageous Twelve’s willingness to fight and risk your lively hoods so others could prosper,” Gilstrap read.
Jackson told the room that since he and Crawford are the last two surviving members of the Courageous 12, it’s time to get the history before it’s too late.
“As long as I have breath in my body, I am going to talk about the Courageous 12,” Jackson said.
Shirley Baker, wife of Adam Baker, was not in attendance
Lillian Ann Crawford, deceased, wife of Freddie Crawford
Juanita Deloach, deceased, wife of Raymond Deloach
Mary Holland, wife of C.T. Holland, was in attendance
Charlie Ruth Jackson, deceased, wife of Leon Jackson
Betty Keys, wife of Robert Keys, was in attendance
Ann Killen, deceased, wife of Primus Killen
Catherine King, wife of Jimmy King, was in attendance
Doris Lewis, wife of Johnnie B. Lewis, was in attendance
Omega Nero, wife of Horace Nero, was in attendance
Mary Francis Styles, wife of Jerry Styles, was in attendance
Mary Wooten, wife of Nathaniel Wooten, was in attendance