Monday morning marked the dawn of the 40th year that we've been observing Black History Month.
To commemorate that milestone, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman raised a flag featuring the likeness of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the progenitor of the concept and namesake of a history museum in the city, over City Hall.
“I hope the message it sends is, at City Hall we really believe in being a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all," he said. "This is just another example of recognizing that this needs to be a community where everyone is welcome, everyone has a chance to become successful, and that's who we want to be as a city.”
In 2015, Kriseman opted to fly the LGBT Pride flag over City Hall during Pride week, so it made sense to recognize the critical role African Americans have played in shaping the city despite the scourge of segregation and lingering racial tensions.
St. Petersburg is a city that remains largely divided, with neighborhoods north of Central Avenue being predominantly white and those south of Central being predominantly black. As is the case in most cities, economic disparity between the two groups also remains a painful issue. St. Pete is the site of five schools, each of which is predominantly African-American, that the Tampa Bay Times dubbed "failure factories" in an exposé last summer.
The city, of course, has little it can do to improve schools — that's the Pinellas County School District's job — but it has in recent years more aggressively sought economic development in South St. Pete in a variety of ways. Kriseman also hired Police Chief Anthony Holloway in 2014. Holloway has since received praise for his efforts to improve communication between police and south side residents.
So while there might be a long way to go, officials say recent gains deserve recognition.
“It's an illustration of the progress that our community is making, and a good reminder that the African-American community is not monolithic, has varied interests and there is much to acknowledge about its history and contributions,” said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomlin. “The African-American history is a very rich segment of St. Petersburg's comprehensive history. It's great to see face of every hue here celebrating that fact.”
Kriseman said it's about sending the message the St. Pete is an inclusive city.
“There's a lot of things going on in the city where we're making history," Kriseman said. "And if we can do this, it's just another way that we can bring the community together so that we really become that city of opportunity where the sun shines on all, then what a great way to do it today.”
Those well-versed in the ways the city's diverse population has impacted the city say they hope flying the flag will spark interest among residents who might not really know much about it.
“It's a pretty bold act, but then again the city has already demonstrated that by raising the [Pride] flag,” said Carla Bristol, a member of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum board and owner of a nearby gallery. “Hopefully it will cause a lot of people to get more knowledge, and more understanding... So maybe there will be a greater awareness, which would ultimately bring us all closer together. That should be the goal. One people, one city.”