Ya La’ford honors Courageous 12 in the space they were dishonored

Left, local artist Ya La’ford, Leon Jackson, the last surviving member of the Courageous 12, Mayor Ken Welch and family members of the other 11 Courageous 12 heroes at the groundbreaking ceremony of The Central on Wednesday, Feb. 28. [City of St. Petersburg]


ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Ken Welch, city staff and community members attended the groundbreaking ceremony for The Central, a mix-use redevelopment project that will include office space, a 4-star hotel, 42 workforce housing units, 500-plus public parking spaces and 14,000 square feet of retail space.

The Central will be located at 1301 Central Ave., the former site of the St. Petersburg Police Department. The 42 workforce units are slated for tenants making at or below 120 percent of the area median income, which is about $73,080 for a single person and $104,280 for a family of four.

In 2020, the city council chose local artist Ya La’ford to create a monument on the site to honor the Courageous 12, the 12 brave Black St. Petersburg Police Officers who sued the City of St. Petersburg Police Department and won.

Artist Ya La’ford presented Leon Jackson, the last surviving member of the Courageous 12, with a personalized piece of artwork during the groundbreaking and unveiling ceremony for The Central on Wednesday, Feb. 28. [City of St. Petersburg]

It was 1965. Racial tensions were high in St. Pete when a group of Black police officers, later named the Courageous 12, filed a suit against the city demanding the right to patrol white neighborhoods, to make arrests and not be limited by the color of their skin.

These Black men wanted to be integrated fully into the police department. Backed by two lawyers, James B. Sanderlin and Frank Peterman Sr., and bankrolled by their own money, the 12 stood up for basic human rights.

After an initial loss, on Aug. 1, 1968, the court awarded them a victory.

“It symbolizes progress, it symbolizes innovation and a commitment to building a future that honors our past and our history while embracing the opportunities of tomorrow,” said Mayor Welch at the groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

A rendering of the Courageous 12 monument. [Ya La’ford]

Leon Jackson, the last surviving member of the Courageous 12, was on hand along with family members of the other 11 officers to symbolically break ground on the land that housed so much stress and pain.

“I am humbled and honored to stand here today knowing that our journey will be remembered and will continue to inspire others,” said Jackson. “It wasn’t just about us. It was about confronting racism. It was about reshaping the system. We believed in justice and that the future could be better.”

In a city still struggling with race and inequality, La’ford’s 25-foot bronze monument — with each of the Couregeous 12 faces displayed — represents strength, wisdom and optimism for the city’s future.

“It is an honor to answer the call of creating a unique public memorial that will serve as a tribute to highlight the sacrifice, duty and service of these 12 courageous African-American officers,” La’ford said. “It is really important that we tell their story in a very unique yet strong and beautiful way.”

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