“The sculpture also reflects an on-going dialogue relative to what it means to sacrifice and serve others,” La’ford said on her commissioned Courageous 12 piece. Photo courtesy of Ya La’ford.
BY ABBY BAKER, The Gabber
The following article first appeared in the Jan. 21-27 edition of The Gabber newspaper.
ST. PETERSBURG — It’s been more than five decades since 12 Black police officers fought, sued and won a discrimination lawsuit against the St. Petersburg Police Department, and with the green light from the city, the Courageous 12, as they are known, are finally getting a memorial in their honor.
In a Dec. 16 council meeting, the City of St. Petersburg named local artist Ya La‘ford the woman for the job.
La‘ford’s Courageous 12 memorial, a bronze sculpture titled “Badge of Justice,” will stand at the former St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters. The concept is a police badge with an eagle soaring out of its heart. La’ford weaves geometric patterns throughout the entire centerpiece, bird and badge both.
“I’m honored and humbled by the city’s commitment to honor the Courageous 12 and to elevate their story,” La ‘ford said.
La‘ford grew up living in the Bronx before settling in St. Petersburg, and she is no stranger to art projects in the area. She has painted murals in the Warehouse Arts District, including the “King’s Dream Unite” piece at the historic Manhattan Casino.
“Ultimately, I hope my art can serve as a powerful tool of healing, memory and a light of hope for our community,” La’ford said.
In 1965, St. Petersburg’s Black police officers were only permitted to patrol Black neighborhoods, and could not arrest white citizens.
That was before the May 11, 1965, discrimination lawsuit against the St. Petersburg Police Department by 12 of the 15 Black officers who were employed there. They won, and in turn gained the same rights as their white counterparts.
Fifty-five years later, they are getting memorialized.
“The sculpture seeks to highlight the impact of motion, movement, time and in a figurative form that represents the sacrifice, duty and service of the Courageous 12,” La’ford said.
La’ford will create the memorial, a concept titled “Badge of Justice,” at the former St. Petersburg headquarters, located in the Edge District on 13th Street North. Photo courtesy of Ya La’ford.
Currently, the sculpture is only in the planning stage, however.
The old police headquarters, sitting on 13th Street North between Central Avenue and First Avenue North, is slated for redevelopment. Edge Central Development Partners is buying the property from the city for $6.4 million and plans to turn it into a mixed-use center that will include apartments, condos, restaurants and retail space.
The City of St. Petersburg is anticipating that construction will begin later this year.
“My understanding is that we are excited to move forward,” said Ben Kirby, St. Petersburg communications director. “All these pieces seem to be moving ahead; I would anticipate that construction will begin this year.”
The art project won’t begin until construction is well underway, so for now, the bronze memorial centerpiece will have to wait.
“I look forward to working with the developer and city to create an art piece that serves as a tribute to recognize dedication, service and sacrifice for St. Petersburg and beyond,” La’ford said.
This story originally appeared in The Gabber newspaper.