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Building an Equity Movement : A Visual History in Pinellas County


Foreword This digital guide reproduces in text and images an exhibit installed at the Center for Health Equity entitled Building an Equity Movement. The exhibit shares stories of episodes in Pinellas County, Florida history when people came together to secure rights, combat injustice and work to advance race equity and health equity. The goal of the exhibit is to embrace that heritage and inspire solidarity and resolve among today’s social changemakers. Because the Center for Health Equity is closed and operating virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sharing this digital version with the community. We look forward to meeting you back at the Center and sharing the exhibit in person when the time is right.


Building an Equity Movement Today’s social change advocates can learn a great deal from stories about people who have previously stood together to challenge the status quo and fight for equity. Many of the injustices faced by previous generations persist today, reminding us that the work of securing and protecting peoples’ rights is an ongoing struggle that each generation must undertake.

People are capable of profound transformation when they work together in social movements. Locally, the Black community was part of a national Civil Rights Movement that organized and mobilized to end racial discrimination and gain equal rights. Their stories of challenging the culture of white supremacy in the Jim Crow South are lessons in heroism and solidarity. They also reveal the hard, strategic work required to create change. Every subsequent social change movement owes its success to the example set by the Civil Rights Movement in America, especially in the South.


The struggle to end racism in our community is far from over. In Pinellas County, racial discrimination is reflected throughout the social determinants of health, including housing, education, employment and the environment. Racial discrimination is the foremost cause of health disparities among people in our community. Achieving racial equity is key to achieving health equity in Pinellas County, making it a top priority of the growing local health equity movement. Other types of discrimination— such as gender, sexual expression, disability, age and income— also unfairly and unnecessarily take their toll on public health. As we work toward a community where everyone can thrive, there are many new chapters of social change waiting to be written.


The Ground We Stand On The roots of inequity in Pinellas County started as early as Panfilo de Narvaez landing on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay in 1528. Spain was exploring the New World looking for gold and de Narvaez and his men claimed the lands and people they encountered for their king and church. With them was Estevanico (Little Steven), an enslaved person from Morocco, believed to be the first Black man on the continent.

The men pillaged storehouses and exposed the indigenous Tocobaga people to disease. De Narvaez explored Florida along the Gulf Coast through Texas, a nd eventually made his way to northern Mexico to meet u  p with the rest of his expedition. Encounters such as t hese wiped out many of Florida’s native people by the early 1700s. Around 300 years later, the Seminole people fled into Florida after a disastrous war against white settlers led by General Andrew Jackson. As the United States expanded and Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, the government forced many Seminoles to relocate to Oklahoma. Today, the Seminoles remaining in Florida call themselves the “Unconquered People” and are descendants of about 300 people who avoided capture b  y the U.S. Army. Currently, more than 2,000 native people live on six reservations in the state. They have established themselves in such industries as tourism, citrus, and cattle.


This map of Florida shows where the indigenous peoples lived when the Spanish first came ashore in the New World. IMAGE COURTESY THEODORE MORRIS.

When the Spanish arrived in the area, it was a dense jungle of saw palmetto, vines and tightly packed vegetation. IMAGE COURTESY OF HERITAGE VILLAGE.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Building Everything but Wealth The Orange Belt Railway came to St. Petersburg in 1888. African American workers built the beds and laid the rails. Some stayed to settle the city’s first Black neighborhoods, while white people rode the railway and became the first wave of the growing resort town’s tourist trade.

The railroad laborers and other Blacks who came after them in the building trades were forced into circumscribed neighborhoods when settling in St. Petersburg. Often these neighborhoods were “redlined” by banks, meaning that mortgage loans could not be obtained or were available at very high rates. A study in 2018 revealed that 3 out of 4 neighborhoods “redlined” 80 years ago continue to struggle economically.

Most of the money earned by Black workers went to white businesses outside their communities. The result of this combination of factors was a damaged ability to build intergenerational family wealth. Today, nearly 18 percent of St. Petersburg’s African American population has income considered below poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.


Workers on the Orange Belt Railway. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY.

During the city’s 1920s boom, 10 major hotels went up, including the iconic Vinoy Park Hotel. African American labor built these grand places, but the workers could not stay in or even enter them unless they had jobs inside or on the grounds. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY. BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Residential Security Map (detail), Division of Research and Statistics, Appraisal Department, Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, 1937. The map legend includes the following land classifications: A. First Grade (green), B. Second Grade (blue), C. Third Grade (yellow) D. Fourth Grade (red), as well as designations for sparsely settled, industrial, commercial and undeveloped land.

The practice of “redlining,” the name derived from the “insecure” or red areas of local maps, was a systematic denial of insurance and loans to residents of specific, often racially associated, neighborhoods and communities. To learn more, explore an interactive website, Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, which explores the practice and features redlining maps from across the country embedded on a single map of the United States. BUILDING EVERYTHING BUT WEALTH


In 1868, John Donaldson (above and right-hand figure in photo, left) was the first Black man to live in St. Petersburg. Formerly enslaved in Alabama, he worked on one of the earliest citrus groves. He gained wide respect for his agricultural talents and was a civic leader, becoming the first postman in St. Petersburg. PHOTO COURTESY OF HERITAGE VILLAGE.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Segregated Health Care Between 1903 and 1913, three hospitals opened in St. Petersburg; none were open to the Black community. In July 1913, the old Samaritan Hospital was moved to a new site to serve the Black community. There were no doctors on staff and a handful of nurses provided treatment primarily to patients with communicable diseases, earning the facility the name of “pest house.� In 1923 the 3,500 square foot Mercy Hospital opened and in 1926 Dr. James Maxie Ponder became the first Black staff physician, remaining the only one for more than ten years. Mercy Hospital operated until 1966 as the only hospital in the city to treat African Americans.

By 1953, St. Petersburg had five Black physicians providing quality health care to the entire Black community. They struggled with outdated equipment discarded from Mound Park (now Bayfront Medical Center), overcrowding, no pharmacy and no laboratory. Other staff at Mercy Hospital included a cadre of trained nurses who assisted the physicians in providing essential and quality medical care; and Gray Ladies, volunteers who performed nonmedical tasks freeing nurses for other duties.


In February 1961, civil rights pioneer Dr. Fred Alsup admitted Mrs. Altamease Chapman to Mound Park Hospital (later named Bayfront Hospital), effectively desegregating the whites-only hospital for the first time. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Pediatric ward, Mercy Hospital. Mercy Hospital was city-funded, but at a much lower rate than the white Mound Park Hospital. The City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, a group of civic-minded Black women, raised funds to equip laboratories and clinics at the hospital. PHOTO COURTESY OF TAMPA BAY TIMES. In the early 1900’s midwives provided medical care to the African American community. These pioneer women, frequently traveling on foot, provided not only maternity services but general medical care to much of the Black community. Midwifery remained an important means of health care well into the twentieth century. PHOTO COURTESY OF HERITAGE VILLAGE.

SEGREGATED HEALTH CARE


Dr. James Ponder, first Black physician at Mercy Hospital. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Lynching in St. Petersburg From Reconstruction until the Civil Rights movement, lynching was an effective method of terrorizing, punishing and controlling Black people. According to the NAACP, between 1900 and 1930 Florida had the highest ratio of lynchings of any state in the country based on the size of its Black population. There are two documented local lynchings. One occurred on November 12, 1914, when John Evans was lynched at Ninth Street (now Dr. Martin Luther King Street) and Second Avenue South by a mob of 1,500 white men, women, and children.

The other was Parker Watson, lynched on May 9, 1926 at the hands of a group of armed men as three police officers were taking him to the county jail. His body was found along an isolated road with five bullet holes and what appeared to be acid stains on his face. The lynching of John Thomas in 1905 has not been fully documented. Thomas killed the St. Petersburg police chief, after which a mob is alleged to have stormed the jail and “shot him to pieces.�

These are several of what could be many more. We will probably never know.


On November 12, 1914 John Evans was lynched by a mob of 1,500 white men, women, and children. His body was hung from a pole on the southwest corner of 9th Street S and 2nd Avenue South and riddled with bullets for up to ten minutes, according to newspaper accounts of the time. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama memorializes the more than 4,400 lynchings that occurred in the nation, county by county. PHOTOS BY DENNIS KEIM.

LYNCHING IN ST. PETERSBURG


At the time of the lynchings, St. Petersburg was busy promoting itself as a progressive city, open to all who wanted to rest and relax in warm tropical breezes. The mob that lynched John Evans walked west on Central Avenue past these buildings. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


(Some) Women Get the Vote In 1920, the Florida legislature failed to support the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, but enough states did so to make it law. It was not until 1969 that the Florida legislature ratified it, in honor of the League of Women Voters 50th anniversary. At the first election for which they were eligible, St. Petersburg women flocked to the polls in such numbers that they led the state in turning out the vote.

The 19th amendment did not secure suffrage for all women, however. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 began the process of enabling more people of color to vote. The strategic disenfranchisement of Black and Brown people remains a popular political tactic, however. It has been more difficult to combat since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling reversed federal oversight of state election practices. This opened the door to aggressive purges of voter rolls and other tactics of voter suppression that disproportionately impact communities of color.


May Mann Jennings, married to Florida’s governor in 1900, used her position as first lady to campaign for women’s right to vote and founded Florida’s League of Women Voters. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Florida’s voting system is well-known for practices aimed at lowering voter turnout, including strict voter ID laws, poll closures, fewer early voting days and inconvenient locations. IMAGES COURTESY OF TAMPA BAY TIMES AND TAMPA TRIBUNE.

(SOME) WOMEN GET THE VOTE


1964 was the year of Freedom Summer, a voter registration drive in the South that turned deadly. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 began the process of enabling more African Americans to vote. Marches in the segregated South brought attention and eventually institutional change to support people’s right to vote. PHOTO BY DAN BUDNIK @CONTACT PRESS IMAGES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Integrating Public Spaces On Nov. 30, 1955, the day before civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks refused a back-of-the-bus seat, launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Black leaders in St. Petersburg sued to integrate the downtown’s Spa Beach and Pool. The episode ignited more than a decade of spirited desegregation efforts, which included the picketing of segregated movie theaters, a strike by Black sanitation workers, and a suit against the city by Black police officers for equal treatment. Even when laws changed, de facto segregation, discrimination, and harassment and threating behavior continued as common practice. In St. Augustine in 1964, Black people tried to integrate a whites-only hotel by swimming in its pool, and a dramatic news photo of the hotel owner dumping acid in the water horrified the nation and encouraged then-President President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act the next day.


Integrating Spa Beach, 1955. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY. BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Joseph Savage led a strike by city sanitation workers in May of 1968, one month after Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. Almost all of the sanitation workers were African American. When the city failed to follow through on a pay agreement, the workers went on strike for 116 days. Blockades, peaceful protests, boycotts, and marches on city hall eventually turned angry and led to riots, arrests, national attention, and dismissal of workers. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FAMILY OF JOSEPH SAVAGE.

INTEGRATING PUBLIC SPACES


Dr. Ralph Wimbish holds a solitary sit-in at Maas Brothers lunch counter in St. Petersburg. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


In the summer of 1964 in St. Augustine, a hotel manager poured acid into a pool where white and Black activists were gathered to protest desegregation. Images in the national media from this incident and others that summer helped galvanize support for civil rights and desegregation. PHOTO COURTESY LEONARD FINK / AP IMAGES.

INTEGRATING PUBLIC SPACES


The Courageous 12 were sworn police officers whose beat was limited to Black neighborhoods–they were not allowed to arrest white suspects. The suit filed by the officers for equal treatment went all the way to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. PETERSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT.

Central Avenue in St. Petersburg was famous for its green benches. They were a symbol of the city which said to visitors – sit a while, relax, you are on vacation. To African Americans, the message was much different. By unwritten edict, the only Blacks allowed to sit on the benches were nannies and nurses caring for their white charges. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Combatting Racist Representation In December 1966 Joe Waller, later named Omali Yeshitela, ripped down a mural on the walls of city hall which many people considered to be racially offensive. T  he mural, which had hung for decades, depicted a g  roup of Black people with cartoonish features singing while serving food to white people at Pass-a-Grille beach. George Snow Hill, the creator of the mural, was an artist employed by the Federal Arts Project, a program of the Work Projects Administration during the Great Depression.

Yeshitela’s trial and appeals lasted five years, with his attorneys arguing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that a subsequent trial on state charges would constitute double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same offence. He served 22 months in prison and was ineligible to vote until the governor and three Florida Cabinet members restored his rights in 2000.


Joe Waller carrying the city hall mural on the streets of St. Petersburg immediately after ripping it down. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Sports Led the Way Some today believe sports helped move the community toward better race relations in the late 1960s and 70s. In the beginning, school desegregation was widely and bitterly opposed. Court-ordered busing brought turmoil in 1971, but it also created the opportunity for friendships and a deeper understanding between races among students of that first generation of integration.

Pinellas County schools have begun to resegregate into neighborhood schools since a judge ordered the end of busing in 2000. One of the consequences of racially discriminatory mortgage lending, the practice known as redlining, is that American neighborhoods are deeply segregated by race, as are the schools that serve them.


In 1964, 10 years after the Brown v. Board decision outlawing school segregation, St. Petersburg schools had yet to fully comply. That year, Steve Jones, a Black student, played quarterback for the powerful Dixie Hollins High School Rebels football team. He was the first Black player on a historically white public high school team in St. Pete. In this photo, Jones receives an award from his college football coach. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

In December 1966, the all-Black Gibbs High School basketball team played a game against Clearwater High, an elite white team. Crowds packed St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Center arena, whites on one side, Blacks on the other. Gibbs won a thrilling and close game. Officials from both schools reported no ugly incidents. The game was so popular, a rematch was scheduled 10 days later where Gibbs once again bested Clearwater. NEWSPAPER HEADLINES COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Disability Rights Currently 1 in 8 Americans experience a disability that affects mobility, and millions more will face a short-term disability affecting mobility at some point in their lives. People experiencing disabilities often struggle to negotiate dangerous and inconvenient obstacles in the built environment.

Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, the city of St. Petersburg established the Committee to Advocate for Persons with Impairments in 1972 to do just as the name implies.


At the St. Petersburg Sailing Center, Warrior Sailing provides wounded and disabled veterans opportunities for strengthening and healing through the sport of sailing. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WARRIOR SAILING (WARRIORSAILING.ORG).

St. Petersburg resident George Locascio, a polio survivor who used a wheelchair, fought to gain access for himself and others like him. Unafraid to take on powerful organizations, Locascio battled the City of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for accommodations at the new stadium. He pushed for playgrounds where disabled and nondisabled children could play together. He acted as a watchdog to ensure the city followed the guidelines of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


By 2003, the City of St. Petersburg had installed an estimated 4,500 curb cuts to help people move easily from sidewalk to street. Improving access to wheelchairs has improved the urban environment for all. This concept, known as the “Curb Cut Effect,� reasons that humans using all modes of mobility, from wheelchairs, skates, bicycles and strollers to walkers and runners, benefit from this initiative designed initially for the disabled. PHOTO BY MARY ANNA MURPHY.

DISABILITY RIGHTS


Late in the 20th century, disabled people and their allies became proactive in fighting for equity of convenience, access and opportunity. As part of a public awareness campaign in 1981, Florida Governor Bob Graham donned covered goggles to experience navigating in simulated blindness. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


A Hidden Minority Homeless people comprise a minority group often maligned or ignored, relegated, some have said, to a “second tier of humanity.” An annual count turns up thousands of homeless adults, children, and families who lack the money to pay market rents, secure subsidized housing, or even avail themselves of limited numbers of temporary shelters or beds. Far from sharing in equity, they live on the streets, in their cars, under bridges, in empty buildings, within patches of dense brush on interstate rights of way. The current affordable housing crisis in Pinellas County does not bode well for the prospect of housing the homeless. Countywide housing research revealed that there has been a sharp decrease in new units of affordable housing— down from 401 new units in 2012 to only 86 units in 2016. It is estimated that there is a deficit of almost 20,000 housing units for extremely lowincome households countywide—and that was before the COVID-19 crisis brought housing insecurity and homelessness to the doorsteps of thousands of the working poor and middle class families.


In 2007, Catholic Charities and governmental groups founded Pinellas Hope, a temporary shelter for people who have no place to live. It offers tents, apartments, cottages, meals, and counseling to help people become self-sufficient and enjoy a greater share of social equity. It has taken in more than 8,000 people. About half have moved on to stable housing. SHUTTERSTOCK

In 2007 St. Petersburg police slashed tents belonging to the homeless, citing their conditions as fire hazards. After the episode, a homeless advocacy group called St. Petersburg one of the nation’s “meanest cities.” IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


Advances for LGBTQ People In 1977, eight years after the Stonewall episode in New York City that launched the gay pride movement, Florida citrus spokeswoman Anita Bryant waged an ongoing, nationally publicized verbal war with gay people. In St. Petersburg, police routinely harrassed and arrested gay men in parks, and other public spaces for suspected homosexual activity. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court of the U.S struck down laws governing homosexuality. Homosexuality is now legal in all 50 states. In 2015, the Court struck down the last state law banning same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Americans have exactly reversed their opinion of such unions. In 2004, 60 percent opposed same-sex marriage, while 31 percent approved; in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent now support while 30 percent oppose gay marriage.

Despite such progress, LGBTQ people are not protected from housing discrimination in most states, including Florida, nor is there federal or Florida law protecting gay employees from discrimination.


St. Petersburg annually hosts the largest Pride Parade and celebration in the Southeast. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG.

As recently as the early 1980s, St. Petersburg undercover police routinely arrested gay men. BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY


The Stonewall riots in New York City launched the gay pride movement in the US. They were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER, NATIONAL HISTORY ARCHIVE.

ADVANCES FOR LGBTQ PEOPLE


Add to the Story Do you have a story to share about social change in our community? Is there a social movement that particularly inspires you? We are collecting ideas to add to the exhibit over time and look forward to learning about additional local civil rights achievements. Contact us at History@Healthystpete.foundation.

Acknowledgments The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg gratefully acknowledges and thanks Gwendolyn Reese and Jon Wilson for their invaluable counsel, research, writing and photo research for this exhibit. Thanks also go to Boyzell Hosey for research and facilitating access to the photo archives of the Tampa Bay Times; the City of St. Petersburg for photo research, permissions and loans; and the Florida Holocaust Museum. Exhibit design by MAM Exhibit Design and Phillip Gary Design. Editor and project lead, Karen Chassin.

BUILDING AN EQUITY MOVEMENT: A VISUAL HISTORY IN PINELLAS COUNTY

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Building an Equity Movement: A Visual History in Pinellas County  

Modern-day social change advocates can learn a great deal from those who have previously challenged the status quo and fought for equity. Th...

Building an Equity Movement: A Visual History in Pinellas County  

Modern-day social change advocates can learn a great deal from those who have previously challenged the status quo and fought for equity. Th...

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