Hidden Gem: St. Pete’s African American Heritage Trail
By JON WILSON, Consulting Editor, TB Reporter
The trail tells a story of St. Petersburg’s Black population from 1868 to 1968.
ST. PETERSBURG –The African American Heritage Trail, a series of 19 colorful markers along two historic thoroughfares of the segregation era, conveys a St. Petersburg story that surprises even many long-time residents.
The path is situated on 22nd Street S between 5th and 15th Avenues, and on Ninth Avenue between 16th Street and the Carter G. Woodson Museum of African American History. It is about two miles mile long and can be absorbed as a self-guided tour. Guided tours also are available by appointment through the African American Heritage Association or the Woodson Museum, which is at 2240 Ninth Ave. S.
Video Tour of Trail
Take our video tour with consulting editor Jon Wilson. We make 8 stops along the trail with great information on each location. Click play on the link above:
The walkable trail tells of Elder Jordan, the former slave who built a business empire and whose name is recalled today by Jordan Park, Florida’s first public housing project, and by Jordan Elementary, one of the city’s oldest remaining school buildings. It is now a Head Start center.
The trail tells of the storied Manhattan Casino, where four decades worth of top entertainers and big bands played on what was known as the Chitlin Circuit. It was there that Ray Charles composed in 1950 a little-known ditty called St. Pete Florida Blues.
It tells of local civil rights icons who helped integrate lunch counters and public beaches, and who pushed “red line” boundaries beyond which black businesses could not operate and residents could not live.
It tells of the Happy Workers Day Care Center, founded circa 1928 and said to be the county’s oldest social service agency. It has been a child-care center for six generations of African American residents.
And it tells of much more. The beauty and history it celebrates do not suggest a desire to return to old ways. What it does reflect is the courage and the perseverance of people who were set apart by Jim Crow custom and decree and who had to find their own ways to build their lives. The trail recalls their pride in doing exactly that.
“The African American Heritage Trail preserves the rich culture and history of the Black community in so many ways,” said Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association in St. Petersburg. Along with planners from St. Petersburg City Hall, the association put together the trail.
” It reflects, the love, pride, and courage of its people. The entrepreneurs, activists, and everyday people who were the mainstay of the community. The resiliency and perseverance of a people to overcome oppression, Jim Crow, and racism in every aspect of their daily lives. The trail commemorates the past as it also shines a beacon of light upon the path to the future,” Reese said.
At its height during the early 1960s, the 22nd Street S neighborhood had more than 100 black-owned or operated businesses. The street does not bustle as it did during its heyday, but the 21st century has brought a gradual revival that is continuing. Among new businesses are Chief’s Creole Café, Carla Bristol’s Gallerie 909, Deuces BBQ, and Elma’s Café. St. Petersburg College’s Midtown Campus opened the latest of its current buildings in 2015. The Woodson Museum opened in 2006 and is a vibrant center for community events, some of which are held in its impressive back garden, one of St. Petersburg’s unheralded jewels.
Another relatively new building is the striking blue-and-white United House of Prayer for All People, which went up in 1996. The church is one of many in the eastern United States, the first founded in 1919 by Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace. Music, heavy on brass instruments is popular. Here’s a sample, though not from the St. Petersburg United House of Prayer. WATCH AND LISTEN HERE
The trail, the brainchild of former mayor Bill Foster, opened in August 2014. For information about it, go to stpete.org/parks . For information about the Carter G. Woodson Museum, go to woodsonmuseum.org or call (727) 323-1104 .
Photo and video by Shelly Steck Reale, TB Reporter.
St. Petersburg | History | Arts and Leisure | African American Heritage Trail | TB Reporter
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