An Ethnohistorical Analysis
of the Political Economy of Ethnicity
Among African Americans in St. Petersburg, Florida
By EVELYN NEWMAN PHILLIPS
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Anthropology University of South Florida.
May, 1 994
Major Professor: Susan D. Greenbaum, Ph. D.
This dissertation is dedicated to Carolyn and Harry Lee Andrews in fond memory of their son, Alexis, who lost his life in a drowning accident. While grieving the loss of their beloved son, Carolyn and Harry Lee initiated and organized the Newman-Roberts family reunions. Their efforts have helped to preserve our family.
The completion of a dissertaion is a culmination of a cooperative effort. Such process has involved my extended family, community members, friends, committee members, and even strangers. Embedded in this document is a network of love, appreciation, and responsibility. I want to take this opportunity to say “thank-you” to all who supported me during this adventure.
My sincere gratitude is expressed to the members of my committee — Drs. Susan Greenbaum, Nancy Greenman, Roberta Baer, Aaron Smith, and Patricia Waterman, for their scholarly advise and emotional support. Dr. Susan Greenbaum guided me during this process and kept me on course.
I am very appreciative to the Dr. Juel Smith, Institute on Black Life and the Pride Fellowship for their financial and spiritual support.
To the members of the African American community who opened their lives and homes, the St. Petersburg Times, WTSP (Channel 10), and John Stebbins who allowed me access to their archives, I am forever grateful. Without their cooperation, this thesis would been a very different product.
Most of all, I thank the Omnipotent, Omniscient, the Merciful One — God, for the means, inspiration, motivation, and persistence to complete this project.
An Abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Anthropology University of South Florida
Major Professor: Dr. Susan Greenbaum
African Americans in St. Petersburg as elsewhere in the United States in the 1980s, encountered an unforeseen problem. Crack cocaine and the violence associated with it usurped the lives of many of their youths. Intergenerational discontinuities estranged the youth from the values of their elders and created chaos in the neighborhoods. Although public officials and community leaders launched “Just Say No” and “Drug-Free” campaigns, the lives of many African American youth ended in death or jail sentences.
The social history of African Americans in St. Petersburg from 1920 to 1990 was documented in order to understand some of the probable causes for the city’s youth crisis. Archival documents and the life histories of thirty-two adults, most over the age of 65 years were explored. These collateral evidences and eye-witness accounts revealed the dialectics of ethnicity, racism, tourism and development.
Since the 1920s, the city of St. Petersburg has consistently pursued a policy of segregation. Using laws and development schemes, the city’s leaders have attempted to restrict African American contact with tourists and maintain a strict division of labor. Public policies led to the destruction and disintegration of Methodist Town and Gas Plant — two of the oldest African American settlements in St. Petersburg. These forces, combined with desegregation of schools, also disrupted the enculturation of African American youths. A political economy of racism and tourism has influenced African Americans and their youths’ sense of place and belonging in St. Petersburg.
To inform youths of their cultural legacy, the collected data were reconstituted into an ethnic heritage program — La Churasano (culture in Mandinka) — for adolescents between ages 11 years and 17 years. This study found that among the adolescent participants, the identity of African American youths under age fifteen years is more adversely influenced by stereotypical images of African Americans than older youths.
Finally, this work includes a discussion of the implications of applying native anthropology. This analysis is a reflection of what it means to be an African American anthropologist studying African Americans.
This dissertation is a documentation of the lives of African Americans in St. Petersburg, an identification of their indigenous cosmology, and a summary of the development and implementation of a community-based enculturation model. It shows that the present crisis existing among African American youth is linked to the historical legacy of African Americans in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is portrayed as a monolithic white American community in its Chamber of Commerce’s glossy brochure. Pictures of well tanned prosperous looking white Americans combined with photos of the Barnett Tower, the city’s signature building, and aerial shots of the sea coast invite snow bound residents and businesses of the North to come, live in, and enjoy this beautiful tropical waterfront community on the west coast of Florida.
The brochure to which I refer, projects the Chamber of Commerce’s image of St. Petersburg. This business organization suggests that this city is “a strong business community that has a quality of life that is second to none and its residents have it all.” The Chamber concludes, “St. Petersburg is enjoying a pace of economic investment of historic proportions and it is a city that means business.”
There is another view of St. Petersburg that slick brochures do not reveal. The 1990 United States Census data indicate that over 80 percent of the residents who live in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown are African Americans and do not have a quality of life that is second to none. Their income is low. The median income for St. Petersburg during the 1990 census was $27,577. However, one of the neighborhood just west of downtown St. Petersburg had a median earning of $5,500. Figures show that these taxpayers do not have access to “everything that is needed to succeed and enjoy life at its best” as the Chamber’s literature suggests.
The economic status of African Americans portrays one dimension in their life. Another aspect of their existence is their unexplored heritage in St. Petersburg. The invisibility of African Americans is poignant in the city’s development and tourism policies. Although African Americans geographically are located at the core of St. Petersburg, public officials view them figuratively as peripheral to the growth of the city. Policy makers fear that exposure of this other side of St. Petersburg threatens development and tarnishes the city’s tourist image.
The African American community developed in relation to the settlement of St. Petersburg and its tourist trade. Anna Germain and John Donaldson were the first African Americans who settled in St. Petersburg. In 1868, these formerly enslaved African Americans accompanied their employer, Louis Bell, to this coastal area. These descendants married, and raised eleven children. They were later joined by a sizable number of other African American settlers who came during the late 1 800s primarily to help build the city’s infrastructure. They laid railroad tracks, built piers and paved streets during that period. Between 1920 and 1930 their migration reached a level that has not been surpassed. During this period, the African American population increased 208.86 percent (St. Petersburg Planning Board: 1955). It rose from 7,393 to 11,980 residents. As St. Petersburg became a winter resort for northern tourists, African Americans arrived to fill a demand for bellhops, waiters, and maids in the hotel and restaurant industries.
Many African Americans made St. Petersburg their permanent homes. They created downtown neighborhoods near the Seaboard train depot and their jobs. Their communities became known as Gas Plant, Little Egypt, Pepper Town and Methodist Town. None of the original neighborhoods have survived. They have been displaced, demolished and are listed in the annals of St. Petersburg’s public policy. These areas and the relationships created through them were sacrificed for St. Petersburg’s urban redevelopment and tourism projects.
Life in St. Petersburg created, restricted, and challenged African Americans’ sense of community. Racism, segregation and other legal policies constricted the community psychologically and physically. A common sense of community was born out of segregation. However, such restrictions limited individual development and self expression. Sit-ins, sanitation strikes, and marches were used by the African American community to challenge segregation during late 1960s and early 1970s. These protests led to the subsequent desegregation of schools and neighborhoods, and in the process the changes altered the community.
By the 1 980s, ten years after desegregation, new types of problems affected the African American community. The City designated three of the oldest African American settlements contiguous to downtown as blighted slums to attract a baseball team and upscale tourists. This action included an initiation of the City’s downtown redevelopment plan that removed over 2,000 African American families from downtown neighborhoods. Also, during this period, growing numbers of African American youths in St. Petersburg became involved with crack cocaine. The Pinellas County medical examiner reports that during 1988, African Americans under eighteen years of age comprised 28.5% of the homicides in St. Petersburg and surrounding communities (Bedore 1991). This ethnic group included only 9.16 percent of the county residents during that period (Juvenile Welfare Board 1988). Law enforcement reports indicate that 1,266 African American adolescents in St. Petersburg under 18 years old were arrested in 1987 during a 9 month period (Florida Department of Law Enforcement 1988). African American neighborhoods are so disrupted by youth violence, that many leaders in the community conclude that African Americans youths in St. Petersburg are destroying the gains that were acquired during the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties. Little more than a century after African Americans settled in St. Petersburg, they wrestle with how to save their children, instill them with African American values, and preserve their ethnic neighborhoods. All the while, the City struggles to distance its image from its darker residents.
Ahistorical approaches such as “Just Say No” campaigns and incarceration are among the methods used to resolve problems facing African American juveniles in St. Petersburg. Many African Americans and program developers have assumed that youths have created the social chaos. Few citizens have considered the teenagers’ status as a reflection of historical conditions. The steps taken seldom have included historical analyses of the political economy that influenced the world views of the youths and their elders.
Political economy is defined as a paradigmatic formula for examining how the nexus of economics, ideologies, and politics affect social processes and relationships in society. Known as historical determinism, political economy emphasizes the forces of production and locates the economy at the temporal intersection of a synchronic dimension of historical process and change (Reed 1988:34). Marvin Harris (1979:53) argues that political economy is an organization of reproduction, production, exchange, and consumption within and between states. He asserts that an exploration of urban hierarchies, political organizations, education, police control, corporations, division of labor, enculturation, and classes permit an understanding of the political economy of a culture (Harris 1979:53). Economic and political systems are determinants of the social structure, and the social structure in turn reinforces the political and economic system (Sherman 1987: 50-51). Political economy mediates relationships and controls reproduction and production between groups within a society (Applebaum 1987).
Cultural values, beliefs, and world views are influenced by the need to survive psychologically and physically in a social structure that is molded by economic and political systems which are intertwined in modern societies (Clark 1991 :19). Harris (1979) defines the theoretical underpinnings of political economy as cultural materialism. He suggests that a synthesis of economics and politics determines human behavior (Harris 1979:80). Drawing on the theoretical assumptions of Malinowski’s functionalism and Marxism, Harris (1979:80) argues that “the mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life….” He concludes that social existence determines people’s consciousness.
Harris (1979:53) proposes that political economy exists in a tripartite scheme — infrastructure, structure, and superstructure. He classifies political economy under the rubric of structure. However, he acknowledges that it is supported by the infrastructure which is driven by subsistence needs of humans and the ideological and mental goals and values of the superstructure. Therefore, it is assumed that political economy cannot exist without the incorporation of human needs and ideological beliefs. Conversely, political economy shapes human needs and values, beliefs and goals.
Race undergirds the political economy among African Americans in St. Petersburg. Racism forms the base of economic schemes that deliberately retard the development of the African American community physically and psychosocially. Promoted through segregation, then desegregation, tourism and urban redevelopment, such construct creates blight and contributes to the destruction of families and neighborhoods — the preservers of values, customs, and other intangible elements of culture. The pervasive influence of racism undermines a sense of self, devalues the cultural heritage of African Americans, and encourages self destructive behaviors such as drug abuse and violence among young African Americans in St. Petersburg. The political economy of St. Petersburg effectively maintains a culture embedded with racism that influences the world views of African Americans.
The capacity of African Americans to overcome racism and to ameliorate the negative effects of the political economy in St. Petersburg depends not only upon creating laws, but also on African Americans understanding their cultural heritage and collective worth. It is necessary that African Americans know who they are, comprehend the forces which shape their existence, and realize their ability to mobilize themselves politically and economically. Recognizing and using the power of ethnicity are acts of determination for disfranchised groups. Ethnicity is an internal dimension that provides groups with a sense of belonging to a collective, reinforced through values, beliefs, and customs to ensure their physical and psychological survival (Barth 1969; DeVos 1975; Roosens 1989). An acknowledgement and an embrace of African American ethnicity place them in a proactive position and at the center of their world.
The basic premise of my dissertation is that knowledge of an ethnohistorical context of the political economy of ethnicity among African Americans is needed for them to understand their cultural heritage and the power that lies therein. This document incorporates an understanding African American values, beliefs, and customs in the context of the changing conditions which shape them. This study implies that ethnicity among African Americans does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, the conditions which African Americans confront mold their ethnic identity.
Four major processes shape this dissertation: (a.) a documentation of the historical conditions that structure African American ethnicity in St. Petersburg; (b.) an exploration of how the dialectics of progress and development between African Americans and policy makers in St. Petersburg affect self identity; (c.) a revelation of which problems confront contemporary African Americans, and the implications of those problems for the youngsters; and (d.) an emphasis of efforts used to reduce inter-generational discontinuities and to teach ethnic heritage to the younger generation of African Americans in St. Petersburg. If we understand of how African Americans in St. Petersburg respond to the ecological and economic exigencies, then we are better able to suggest ways which may strengthen and guide their collective futures.
The following questions and related review of literature provide a foundation for this dissertation.
1. Which conditions historically have shaped ethnicity among African Americans in St. Petersburg?
Policy makers in St. Petersburg seek politically expedient measures to cope with current violence among African American youths. Public officials justify “Just Say No” campaigns, arrests, and neighborhood dislocations. These responses represent ahistorical analyses of the conditions which shape African American neighborhoods and contribute to destructive lifestyles among many African American youths. In addition, extant cultural assumptions about race and African Americans further blind policy makers in their attempt to address the problems facing St. Petersburg and its African American community.
This dissertation expands our knowledge of African Americans in St. Petersburg through an examination of the historical conditions and changes which influence their current cosmology. Three major postulates support this approach. Foremost, ethnicity is situationally conditioned (Kivisto 1989:10). Secondly, the ethnic identity of African Americans, reflects a picture of their growth and development, which arose out of their unique historical experiences (Green 1981 :77). Thirdly, ethnohistory provides methodological procedures for understanding the cultural processes of African Americans in St. Petersburg through time by using protocols of an historic nature (Euler 1972:201). This thesis is a record of the impact of change on African Americans.
From the tourism boom of the 1920’s to current developments, African Americans have confronted various changes in St. Petersburg. However, we barely have understood the impact of those changes on the world view of African Americans in St. Petersburg. To increase our knowledge of their lives in St. Petersburg, in this dissertation is provided an analysis of these issues: (1.) how African Americans in St. Petersburg have viewed themselves historically; (2.) how segregation and desegregation have shaped their world view; and (3.) what have been the consequences of various political policies, such as urban redevelopment, on their ethnicity, livelihood and neighborhoods.
An analytical examination of the historical conditions of African Americans in St. Petersburg places them in the context of the evolving cultural milieu. This research shows that ethnicity among this cultural group is a dynamic process and it reflects an adaptation to changing structural conditions (Staiano 1980). The salience of the ethnic identity of African Americans is embedded in their collective historical experience in St. Petersburg.
2. How have the dialectics of progress and development between African Americans and policy makers in St. Petersburg affected self identity?
What are the meanings of progress and development? According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, progress is advancement and development is an expansion and promotion of growth. Despite these definitions, the data of this study support an assumption that advancement, growth and expansion are socially constructed terms. Therefore, what may be considered progress and development by policy makers in St. Petersburg may hold different meanings for African Americans. In constructing an analysis of the dialectics of progress and development between policy makers and African Americans, it is necessary to realize how these external factors relate to African Americans’ sense of self (De Vos and Romanucci-Ross 1975:369). Ideas about progress, development and modernization are major factors that shape ethnicity, if not its creation (Rothschild 1981; Barth 1969).
Tourism is the core of economic development in St. Petersburg. It is so integral to the livelihood of St. Petersburg that this place is known, also, as the “Sunshine City” (Arsenault 1988; Vesperi 1985). The city holds the Guinness world record for the most consecutive days of uninterrupted sunshine, 768 days. The sun shines an average of 361 days every year. This climate brings a significant number of white tourists to this Gulf coast city. The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce records show that in between 1939 and 1940 approximately 68,300 tourists came to the city. However, the City Planning Department (1945:9) annals indicate that the total population of St. Petersburg was only 60,812 people during that time. A Chamber of Commerce fact sheet published in 1989 documents that during 1988 more than 3.6 million tourists came St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. A population profile distributed by the Planning Department (1955:2) explains the role of tourism in the city’s economy. The report accounts that the city’s basic industry of servicing tourists is an economic foundation that “is not subject to fluctuations in temperature or rainfall, nor the whims of labor and business groups, nor to the exhaustion of natural resources.” The city has reinforced this message by investing more than $138 million in a sports stadium and renovating the Bayfront Theater and Pier. Tourism is a major source of income for the city.
Tourism generated other unintended consequences in St. Petersburg. During the 1950s and 1970s significant numbers of retirees permanently relocated to the city. The population of persons over 65 years of age increased 137 percent between 1960 and 1970 (United States Department of Commerce 1970). St. Petersburg became a town for and of retirees. Although these retirees had stable incomes of insurance dividends, pension, and retirements checks, their accelerated growth did not permit city services to keep pace. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg became a national symbol of retirement and was perceived as economically dead (Vesper) 1985:11).
However, by the mid-1970’s St. Petersburg decided to change its image as a retirement community to an upscale city that consists of young progressive citizens (Vesper) 1985: 41-45). St. Petersburg hoped to attract wealthy tourists and new businesses. With these goals, St. Petersburg embarked upon an extensive urban redevelopment plan.
In the United States, redevelopment is associated with physical environment (Blakely 1989:75). One of the most important factors influencing economic development and a city’s ability to attract businesses and tourists are amenities and attractiveness of a particular location. The city of St. Petersburg is directed by these cultural assumptions. July 25, 1984, the St. Petersburg Times published a monograph, titled 100 Years: St. Petersburg Times. In that report, the newspaper editors recalled that they encouraged the redevelopment of Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Times, a major booster of tourism and downtown redevelopment, wrote, “The city has a slum area, smaller than most, but still too large to suit us. Downtown badly needs redeveloping” (Hooker 1984:71). A 1989 brochure of St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce forecasts, “The skyline of St. Petersburg will soon be changed by the addition of the city’s tallest office building…. Over all, downtown St. Petersburg is in the midst of a $750-million redevelopment plan.” For the city of St. Petersburg, economic development and progress entail altering its skyline. Place over people who are considered dispensable, characterizes these types of development policies. To make St. Petersburg an attractive place that would attract businesses and upscale tourists, the City Council declared the African American neighborhoods contiguous to downtown, slums and dismantled them.
To understand the dialectics of progress and development, this study juxtaposes the world view of the city’s policy makers with those of the African American community in St. Petersburg. An analysis of the African American world view concerning progress and development and a comparison of these constructs with the reality of their lives are contained in this discourse. This process examines the underlying assumptions of the African American world view and interprets these values in relation to various micro and macro events which have occurred within the community. For example, the displacement of a seventy-five year old widow who has lived in the same house for the past fifty years, the dismantlement of a low income neighborhood, and the construction of the 138.1 million dollar Florida Suncoast Dome (renamed Thunder Dome) are explored in relation to African Americans’ idea of progress and the ultimate impact of these events on their ethnicity.
An interpretation of the dialectics of progress and development for African Americans in St. Petersburg permits an awareness of the effects these phenomena have on African Americans’ collective sense of being and their individual perceptions of self. The words of a former resident of the Gas Plant area poignantly exemplifies the benefit of this research. Vanessa Williams (1990), currently a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer discusses what the dislocation of her neighborhood means. She recalls that seeing the Florida Suncoast Dome sitting atop the neighborhood where she grew up is especially difficult. This Gas Plant resident argues that her realistic side warned her that the destruction of the Gas Plant area was inevitable because “the poor and powerless are seldom able to resist the schemes of so called urban visionaries” (Williams 1990). However, her idealistic side is “angry about the senseless laying waste of a once vital community…. Now, as I look at the Florida Suncoast Dome, this hollow stadium without a team, I see a monument to a city without a soul” (Williams 1990.). This dissertation is an examination of the practice of development and progress from the perspective the African American community.
3. Which problems confront contemporary African Americans and what are the implications of those problems for the youngsters?
Social problems are socially constructed and culturally defined. Crime, violence, and drug abuse are among the many issues that are identified closely with African Americans in St. Petersburg. African American leaders and the National Urban League suggest that African American youths’ devaluation of their Africanness is a problem facing African American communities (Jenkins and Bell 1990). This dissertation determines whether the violence among adolescents is the real problem in African American communities or if the chaos is merely a reflection of deeper problems.
“All human beings exist in a state of psychological striving and interference with the process leads to psychological disturbance” (Leighton 1959:146). Leighton argues that all individuals strive for physical security, sexual satisfaction, love, expression of creativity, a place in society, recognition and membership in a definite human group. The inability to fulfill these needs distorts emotional development and sentiment, which can lead to dysfunctional behavior and psychological disorder (Leighton 1959:68). Environment is a major contributor to social disruptions (Leighton 1959 :25).
To identify problems in the African American community in St. Petersburg and to explore the implication of these problems, this study examines the indices of social disintegration — a recent history of disaster, extensive poverty, cultural confusion and widespread social change (Leighton 1959:319). Therefore, this discourse offers insight beyond the pernicious behavior of African American youths. This work entails an exploration of social structures and discontinuities and seeks to explain the implications for youngsters.
4. What efforts have African Americans made to reduce inter-generational discontinuities and enculturate ethnic heritage within the younger generation of African Americans in St. Petersburg?
Radical discontinuities between the values of elder African Americans and their youths cause grave concerns for African Americans. Disappointment with the alienation of African American youth from their heritage is significant. For African Americans, a collective consciousness and sense of being are used to help reorder their proprietary status. Lerone Bennett (1972:202) argues that “one learns history in order to learn how to make history.” Further, he suggests that an understanding of history teaches African Americans that they can neither afford the luxury of escaping their heritage nor be ignorant of the meanings their acts take on in certain social contexts (Bennett 1972:202).
Nationally, African Americans advocate that one of the most effective means of reducing inter-generational discontinuities is gaining control over the education and enculturation processes of their children. Some African American communities challenge school boards to implement multicultural curricula and to recognize African Americans’ contributions to the world. Rather than attempt to restructure the schools, other communities develop community based heritage programs. Warfield-Coppock and Harvey (1989) list 32 programs that African American communities have initiated in order to raise the ethnic awareness of African American youths.
If maintaining a continuity of ethnic values between generations is a mean of ensuring survival, then, it is crucial for African Americans to enculturate their youths, if they are to survive (De Vos 1985:17). In this thesis is a documentation of an applied anthropological approach to educating African American children concerning their heritage. Entailed also, are other social and political efforts by the African American community to ensure the continuity of their ethnic heritage in a post-desegregated world. Ethnicity is a label for the politics of cultural struggles in the nexus of territorial and cultural nationalism that characterizes all putatively homogeneous nation-states (Williams 1989:439). Brackette Williams (1989:437) argues that nations that force hegemonic homogenization on diverse groups of people through economic and political domination produce ethnic cleavages. In response, subordinated groups create competing sets of criteria as they stake their claim to a place in a nation and attempt to keep others from claiming undue places (Williams 1989:436).
This dissertation includes a discussion concerning the criteria African Americans in St. Petersburg use to make themselves visible in a tourist based economy. The benign and audacious strategies they employ to prevent psychological and physical displacement and to generate a meaningful social life are chronicled. An examination of the historical web of social, economic and political conditions tells the story of the political economy that molds the African American world view in St. Petersburg.
African Americans ethnicity is shaped inherently by a political economy that is undergirded by the practice of racism. For more than two centuries, Africans were captured, enslaved, and made into commodities to support a white American mercantile system.
“They were shackled together in the coffles in dank factory dungeons, squeezed between the decks of stinking ships, separated often from their kinsmen, tribesmen, and even speakers of the same language” (Mintz and Price 1992:42). These Africans and their progenies were stripped of all prerogatives of status or rank, viewed as faceless property, and homogenized by the color of their skin (Mintz and Price 1992:42). Mende, Mandinka, Kru, Wolof, Yoruba, and many other African ethnic groups became a race upon their arrival in the Americas. These Africans forged a new identity based on a synergy of their African ethos and New World experiences. Without slavery, the African American phenomenon would not exist.
Although slavery was terminated well over a century ago, African Americans’ sense of self and place in the American society have been ascribed continually by race, politics, economic conditions, and social ideologies. In Two Nations: Black and White. Separate. Hostile. Unequal, Andrew Hacker (1992:14- 15) writes “being black in America bears the mark of slavery. . . . The ideology that provided the rationale for slavery has not disappeared.” Blacks continue to be seen as an inferior species, not only unsuited for equality but not even meriting a chance to show their worth (Hacker 1992: 14-15). They are dictated ostensibly by a racial status in every sector of their lives. He concludes that these conditions shape the character and capacities of African Americans (Hacker 1992: 14-15).
Race, more than any other concept affects the lives and cosmology of African Americans. This Medieval construct has been used to justify their enslavement, the restriction of their legal rights, and the development of public policies. Martin Luther King (1967:17-18) suggests that racism ascribes, bruises, scars, and defeats African Americans while they try to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. Race is an uninvited coauthor of the African American world view.
It has given birth to movements that advocate African nationalism and ones that promote American assimilation. African Americans have a double consciousness about how to affirm their place and security in a land where they are treated as aliens. Therefore Garveyites, Black Muslims, Pan Africanists, Black Panthers, and Civil Rights activists have been spawn. To ensure their survival from the 1600s to the present, African Americans continually have renamed and redefined themselves. Hence, the ethnogenesis of African Americans is the fruit of their hardships in the American society.
The goal of this literature review is to examine the political economy that shapes the African American world view. Initially, I will discuss the theoretical framework of political economy of African Americans ethnicity. However, there is a dearth of anthropological knowledge concerning African American ethnicity. Therefore, the discourse concerning African American ethnicity is explored. Attention will be given to the construct of race and other variables which shape anthropological research about African Americans. Since this dissertation is an account of contemporary conditions facing the African American community, urban renewal and its effects will also be highlighted. Finally, this review is an examination of African Americans’ struggle to rename their world and to generate a multicultural education movement to ensure the survival of their children. In this literature review, many disparate elements are brought together to show how the sociocultural system is instrumental in shaping the lives of African Americans. The ethnicity of African Americans cannot be seen apart from their history in the United States and its influence on their world view.
Political Economy, Ethnicity and African Americans
Although the ethnicity of African Americans is influenced undoubtedly by the political economy, few scholars have examined their cultural identity from this perspective. The paucity of data in the literature exist because the idea of African American ethnicity is an alien concept. Race dominates the discourse concerning the identity of African Americans. During the late Sixties, anthropologists began to acknowledge the possibility of African American ethnicity, however, they benignly have neglected to study African Americans as a cultural group (Cerroni-Long 1987).
There is a small body of literature that documents the political economy of slavery and ghetto life among African Americans. These studies (Fusfeld and Bates 1984; Genovese 1989; Ijere 1978; Fox-Genovese and Genovese 1983; Tabb 1970) offer some insight into the nexus of conditions which have informed indigenous strategies among African Americans. This body of literature is supported by studies of various histories of African American communities. However, insignificant data concerning the political economy of African American ethnicity exist.
The lack of information exploring the impact of the social structure on the cosmology of African Americans is further complicated by the status of political economy as a theory. This construct has only been integrated into anthropology within the past twenty years. Historically, anthropologists have studied cultures and societies as “autonomous, self-regulating and self-justifying” entities (Wolf 1982:18). Although, studies concerning political economy date back to the Enlightenment, anthropologists did not integrate the concept into their research repertoire until the 1970s (Ortner 1984:138). Counterculture, antiwar movements, the questioning of imperialism and colonialism, and the rise of Marxism led to the consideration of political economy as an anthropological theory (Roseberry 1988).
Despite these shortcomings, l will explore the general concepts of political economy and ethnicity because these theories are the foundation of this dissertation. In accomplishing this task, definitions, the scope of these frameworks, and their relevance to the study of African American ethnicity are explained.
Political economy is an interdisciplinary theoretical approach that is used to interpret the causes and effects of societal relations. It is employed to analyze imperialistic and dependent relationships between nations and national groups (Wolf 1982:8; Ortner 1984:141). This research theory denotes that social relations are interconnected and related to economic, political and ideological contexts that create a social structure (Wolf 1982:9). It indicates that cultural values, beliefs, and behavior are historically and dialectically shaped by material and nonmaterial forces. A major assumption of political economy is that social relationships cannot be severed from the world that surrounds them. Therefore, political economy is used to interpret civil society and the historical construction of various phenomena within it (Reed 1988:34; Clark 1991; Sherman 1987).
Many anthropologists who use political economy primarily have been inspired by the works of Andre Gunder Frank (1967), Eric Wolf (1982) and Emmanuel Wallerstein (1976). These researchers focus on political and economic systems in large regions. Particularly, they emphasize the impact of capitalism on various world cultures (Ortner 1984:141). Frank (1967) posits that capitalism underdevelops most non-Western countries and fosters dependent relationships. Wallerstein (1974) studies the origin of capitalism and proposes that colonial powers extract resources from dominated territories and create core and peripheral relationships. Wolf (1982) traces the European expansion of the world and its impact on the historical transformation of social, political, and economic systems in various regions of the world. These social scientists stress the impact of external forces on the ways in which societies either change or evolve largely in adaptation to political economies (Ortner 1984:141).
A uniform formula for the application of political economy does not exist (Muga 1984; Roseberry 1988; Sherman 1991). Therefore, the field of political economy is characterized by a pervasive debate about its interpretation. Researchers (Roseberry 1988; Ortner 1984) suggest that political economy studies often are too economic. Social scientists tend to focus on markets, wages, and trade relations rather than power relations, resistance, domination, and manipulation (Ortner 1984:184). Also, anthropologists are condemned for universalizing capitalism as the mode of production in all societies (Roseberry 1988; Clammer 1985:73-85). These discussions point to the inchoate state of the concept of political economy and the restraints which exist in its use as an analytical tool.
Barth (1969:11-13) defines ethnicity as a form of social organization that groups use to identify themselves in order to constitute a category distinguishable from other groups. He posits that belonging to an ethnic division allows one to judge oneself and be judged, by those standards that are relevant to that identity (Barth 1969:14). He infers that ethnicity is a dynamic process that is based on mutual interest and understanding. This phenomenon is established out of relationships of inequality and stratification among diverse groups in pluralistic societies.
Muga (1990), Royce (1981), and Bentley (1987) argue that ethnicity is linked to political economy. Muga (1990:6) proposes that “it is clear that economics and politics as well as ideology form a part of the constitutive building blocks of ethnicity and ethnic identification.” Particular interaction of historical processes and national formations define ethnicity (Muga 1990:6). He concludes that the concept of ethnicity is inextricably linked to the penetration of capitalism and a particular set of social relations based on capitalist private property and racism (Muga 1990:12-13). Royce (1981:7) suggests that ethnicity is related to the ideological interpretations and strategies which a group use within a political economy. Rothschild (1981 :69) further explains that the origin of ethnicity is found in blocked opportunities to the possession of economic, educational, political, administrative, and social resources.
Barth (1969:29) advises that ethnicity cannot be reduced to a schema of ethnic labels. He argues that “there will be variations between members, some showing many and some showing few characteristics” (Barth 1969:29). He proposes that the researcher must discover the processes which bring about the boundaries and the saliency of ethnic groups.
Since ethnicity is derived from political economy, it seems only appropriate to study the African American world view from this perspective. The African American outlook originates in the “exigencies of survival and the structure of opportunity in this country” (Taylor 1979:1402). For example, the persistent call for collective action and unity by civil rights groups is an aspect of the African American world view that is derived from their disfranchisement in the society. For example, the Harlem Renaissance is more than a literary and aesthetic movement. This cultural revival is a byproduct of the race riots of the 1920s, Iynching of African American soldiers, and the vilification of Africa and the African American culture (Rampersad 1992:xv). Similarly, the outcry for Black Power during the Sixties represents an attempt to restore ancestral links to Africa and to strengthen the societal status of African Americans (Fuchs 1990:187). Economic discrimination and social exclusion are major contributors to the cultural identity of African Americans (Taylor 1979:1403).
Some of the studies of the political economy of African Americans in slavery and the ghettos clarify this point. For example, Eugene Genovese (1972:xv) records in Roll Jordan Roll that slavery provided the “foundations for a separate black national culture.” He examines the origin of African American Christianity, and writes that it is a blend of African, European, classic Christian and Amerindian cultures (Genovese 1972:209). He suggests that the brutality of slavery prevented Africans from remembering and practicing their religions intact (Genovese 1972:210-212). However, he explains that Africans were able to maintain an African world view toward the concept of their ancestors. This perspective means that Africans are beholden to the ages and responsible to those who came before (Genovese 1972:213). Such concept of life differentiates the African American world view from the Anglo American world view, because the latter group views themselves as heirs to the ages (Genovese 1972:213).
The impact of political economy on African Americans is clearly seen in their attitude towards dress. Genovese (1972:558) shows how the practice of women wearing head scarves was altered by racism in the United States. In West Africa, having one’s head covered signifies origins and pride, however White Americans transformed the scarf into a badge of servility that characterized African American women as Aunt Jemimas (Genovese 1972:558). The transformation of this headdress would cause many African Americans to see a wrapped head as distasteful. This incidence shows how external forces influence how African Americans view themselves.
In The Political Economy of the Urban Ghetto, Daniel Fusfeld and Timothy Bates (1984) reveal how contemporary conditions inspire African American life. The authors primarily show how economic conditions and social values about race fostered African American migration and their participation in the labor market from the 1920s to 1980s. This scholarly masterpiece is a record of the riots after World War I, bombings, and the spatial separation of African Americans that led to a rise in racial consciousness. During the 1920s, African American institutions, newspapers, and businesses expanded and flourished (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:32-33). The collective responses of African Americans are rooted in the inequality that is manifest in the American society.
Research about African American communities is another body of literature that provides an understanding of the saliency of the African American world view. This research is not necessarily classified as political economy. However, it is an examination of the major forces shaping African American life. African American communities in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, and St. Augustine are among the cities that are included in this genre of literature. The Philadelphia Negro, a study written by W. E. B. Du Bois ( 1967), is a documentation of the physical, economic, and social conditions which shaped African Americans in Philadelphia during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He traces the role of the church, secret societies, mutual aid funds, and other cooperative businesses in providing insurance and opportunities for African Americans. Also, Du Bois (1967:230) recounts how the Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training institution was founded because Negro women were excluded from nursing training. This classic study is the first social history of an African American community.
Richard Wright (1945:xxi-xxv) describes the Black Metropolis as a scientific report that characterizes the processes which mold Negroes living in Chicago. St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Clayton (1970) uncover how labor conditions and social beliefs determined African Americans’ attitudes about unions and the development of their ghetto during the early part of the twentieth century. For example, these authors write that many Negroes did not embrace Socialism and the Socialists’ idea of an eight-hour day. They recall that one congregation even fired a preacher who advocated Socialism. Drake and Clayton (1970:50) disclose that Negroes were glad to have an opportunity to work, therefore anyone condemning capitalism was considered a threat to their livelihood. Similarly, they reason that African Americans who passed as whites often did it for economic opportunities and were supported by the community’s code of silence (Drake and Clayton 1970:168).
Three recently published works also expose how the environment in Detroit, Cleveland and St. Augustine influenced the culture of African Americans. David Katzman (1975) focuses on black Detroit in the nineteenth century. He tells how residential patterns, black-white relations, the black economy, and class fostered cohesiveness and divisions. Kenneth Kusmer (1978:207-208) discloses how the consolidation and expansion of Cleveland’s ghettos intensified class stratification, spawn churches, and created spiritual movements. David Colburn (1985) traces the development of the African American community in St. Augustine, black-white relations and examines how interactions influenced the outcome of civil rights movement in that city. Bruce Porter and Marvin Dunn (1984) link a legacy of racial repressions against African Americans in Miami to the Miami Riot of 1980.
Although these studies help us to understand the conditions that shape African American ethnicity, there is a serious dearth of information that specifically addresses their cultural identity. The majority of social scientists identify African Americans as a racial group. The concept of African Americans as a cultural group is traced back only to the 1940s when Herskovits (1958) challenged the assumption that African Americans were without a cultural heritage. The Black Nationalist movement of the Sixties and the unwillingness of African Americans to assimilate into white American culture motivated the study of ethnicity in anthropology (Thompson 1989:95). African American protests led anthropologists to argue that African Americans were culturally different. These views would promote studies which hypothesized that African Americans were either culturally deprived or pathological rather than ethnically distinct.
One factor contributing to the lack of anthropological examination of African American cosmology is related to how anthropologists operationally define ethnicity. Although Barth (1969) in his seminal research Ethnic Groups and Boundaries convincingly argues that ethnicity is a phenomenon of the social structure, the majority of anthropologists treat it as a primordial vessel. Such research conceptualizes ethnicity as collective kinship that is based on blood descent and exemplified by an origin traceable back to a common land, language, religion or history. Therefore cultural traits are used to explain the primordial view of ethnic groups and ethnicity (Royce 1981:3). Costumes, traditions, and behaviors become the operational variables. Willis (1972:138-139) contends that many anthropologists believe that ethnicity and culture link groups to a defined indigenous setting. Hence many anthropologists believe that African Americans do not meet that criterion because they were enslaved and “lost” their cultural heritage. Therefore, viewing African Americans as an ethnic group is unimaginable for some researchers.
CHAPTER 2 CONTINUED. . .
Race or Ethnic Group: Anthropological Discourse on African Americans Color. . . is a political reality.
— James Baldwin
Race is a construct that defines human groups as being different from other groups by virtue of innate and immutable physical characteristics (van den Berghe 1967:9). Biological features are believed to be intrinsically linked to intellectual, moral, physical capacities of a group. Such idea allows a classification and assessment of people primarily based on their skin complexion and the texture of their hair.
These assumptions are based on a taxonomy of human diversity initially proposed by Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist who relied on travelers’ reports to develop an idea of race (Barzun 1965:35; Jordan 1977; Franklin 1989;132-133). In 1758, he published Systema Naturae. This scheme divided homo sapiens into five subspecies. They are ferus — chimpanzee (four foote, mute, hairy); Afer -African (black, phelgmatic, indulgent, monstrous); Americanus — Indian (red, cholic, erect); Europaeus — white (white, ruddy, muscular); Asiaticus — Asians (yellow, melancholic, inflexible); (Barton 1987:4; Gould 1981 :35). He argued that Africans are ruled by caprice and that African women are without shame because their breasts lactate profusely (Gould 1981 :35). This first formal categorization of human beings was founded on a hypothesis that anatomy determines character and Africans and blacks are inferior species.
Until 1920s, it was assumed by many social scientists that African Americans were a racial group that was less intelligent than whites. During the early years of anthropology, there was an ongoing conflict between the nineteenth century cultural evolutionists and Franz Boas concerning the mental and racial capacities of African Americans.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries cultural evolutionists sought to prove the inferiority of African Americans through the scientism of craniometry. Samuel George Morton, along with Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon compared and measured the cranial cavities of blacks and whites (Williams 1989:63). Morton, a founder of the American school of anthropology concluded after measuring 253 skulls that Egyptians, Negroes and American Indians had the smallest cranial capacities when ranked against Caucasians, Mongolians, and Malays (Gould 1981 :55). Caucasians were consistently measured to have the largest cranial capacity. Franz Boas was concerned about the pervasive racist assumptions posited by many of the nineteenth century anthropologists. Rather than focusing on cultural relativity of African Americans, he was drawn into quagmire of anthropomorphic research on African Americans (Hyatt 1985:273; Szwed 1972:156; Cerroni-Long 1987:441; Williams 1989:63).
Unfortunately, Boas’ reinforced an idea that African Americans were an inferior race. He wrote, “There is no doubt in my mind that there is a very definite association between the biological make up of the individual and the physiology and psychological functioning of his body” (Boas 1940:8-9). He also concluded that “the Negro brain is less extremely human than that of the white” (Boas 1962:40). He posited that there was no proof of the inferiority of the Negro type, “except that it seemed barely possible that perhaps the race would not produce quite so many men of highest genius as other races.” Szwed (1972:157) suggests that Boas’ statistical data led him to infer that the Negro culture “simply ‘overlapped’ White American culture.” Boas ( 1963:240) justified his assumptions as follows:
The traits of American Negroes are adequately explained on the basis of his history and social status. The tearing away from the African soil and the consequent complete loss of all standards of life, which were replaced by the dependency of slavery and by all that it entailed, followed by a period of disorganization and by severe economic struggle against heavy odds, are sufficient to explain the inferiority of the status of the race, without falling back upon the theory of hereditary inferiority.
Cerroni-Long (1987:441) suggests that Boas’ research led him and his students to propose that African Americans should be amalgamated and not considered a distinct cultural group because they had loss their racial heritage during slavery. In a Yale Review article, “The Problems of the American Negro,” Boas (1921 :392-396) said that “it would seem that man being what he is, the Negro problem will not disappear in America until the Negro blood has been so diluted that it will no longer be recognized, just as anti- Semitism will not disappear until the last vestige of the Jew as Jew has disappeared.”
Newbell Niles Puckett ( 1969) and Zora Neale Hurston during the 1920s, researched African American folklore. Their studies support the idea of African Americans as a cultural entity. Puckett ( 1969:2) documented the folk beliefs of the Southern Negro. He proposed that European or American culture influenced some aspects of the Negro life but African American folk-knowledge represents many elements of their African past. However, he suggested that Negroes were innately undisciplined, sexually immoral, and had a sense of humor ( Puckett 1969:8). Hurston (1981) is a folklorist, who is known more as a novelist. She recorded the distinctiveness of African culture in the folklore of Haitians and African Americans in Florida and Louisiana. She particularly highlighted community life in Eatonville, an African American town in Florida. Folktales, proverbs, sermons, and life of these townspeople are accounted in Moses: Man of the Mountain ( Hurston  1984), and Their Eyes Were Watchina God ( Hurston  1978).
However Hurston’s work took place during the early part of this century, when African Americans were very wedded to the concept of race. Therefore, she was criticized for not addressing the race problem and profiling southern black life as too pastoral (Washington 1979:16). For example, Sterling Brown, a Howard University educator and writer suggested that she rendered African American life as easy going, and carefree in a land ‘shadowed by squalor, poverty, disease, violence, enforced by ignorance and exploitation’ (Washington 1979:16).
She challenged her critics to reconsider their assumptions about race. In response, Hurston (1984:327) wrote:
Why should i be proud to be a Negro? Why should anyone be proud to be white? Or yellow? Or red? After all, the word “race” is a loose classification of physical characteristics. It tells you nothing about the insides of people It (race) is a deadly explosive on the tongues of men.
Alice Walker (1979:5) says Hurston rescued and recreated a world which she labored to portray African Americans as whole.
Hurston is not the only anthropologist who attempted to shift the discourse from race and encountered powerful resistances. In the preface of The Myth of the Negro Past, Herskovits (1958:xxviii) writes:
This book when first published, discussed and documented a position that at the time was less than congenial to the considerable number of intellectuals who accommodated their thinking to the position of an important and established group of social scientists. . . a position which was challenged by its conclusions.
Herskovits (1958) argued that African Americans are a cultural group and have indeed maintained many elements of their African ancestry. He disclosed: The myth of the Negro past is one of the principle supports of race prejudice in this country…. It rationalizes discrimination, in everyday contact between Negroes and whites, influences the shaping of policy where Negroes are concerned, and affects the trends of research by scholars whose theoretical approach methods, and systems of thought presented to students are in harmony with it (Herskovits 1958:1).
Herskovits (1958:1) concluded that Africans brought to the Americans were not totally stripped of their cultural heritages. Through documents, ethnographic data and observations, he explored cultures of Africans in Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Surinam, and Dahomey to trace the cultural origins of Africans here in the United States (Jackson 1985:238). He showed that various elements of the African world view had been maintained. His research demonstrated the influence of African cultures in the role of elders in managing extra-legal issues, cooperations, and extended family structures. He suggested more overt African behavior include braided hair styles, funeral services, rice planting, mortal and pestle and motor habits (Herskovits 1958:221). He proposed that these characteristics indicate that Africans in the Diaspora are not mere imitations of white Americans. He also concluded that depending upon the acculturative influences, Africans in the United States reinterpret their African world view to meet their New World circumstances (Herskovits 1958:297). Herskovits confronted the assumption that African Americans are a race without an African cultural heritage. E. Franklin Frazier, (1967) in The Negro Family in the United States, countered Herskovits’ (1958) suppositions. He described African heritage among African Americans as “scraps of memories which form an insignificant part of the growing body of traditions in Negro families.” He reasoned:
Probably never before has a people been so nearly completely stripped of its social heritage as the Negroes who were brought to America. Other conquered races (italics added) have continued to worship their household gods within the intimate circle of kinsmen. But slavery destroyed household gods…. Through force of circumstances, they had to acquire a new language, adopt new habits of labor and take over, how every imperfectly, the folkways of the American environment (Frazier 1967:15).
He believed that African American culture evolved independently of Africa (Holloway 19990:ix). He inferred that African Americans lost their preliterate culture in which they were nurtured, created a folk culture, and gradually took on a more sophisticated American culture (Frazier 1967:359). “The Negro has found within the white man’s culture a purpose in life” (Frazier 1967:367).
Not only was the idea of Africanisms existing among African Americans opposed by Frazier (1967), it was also challenged by his mentor, Robert Park, who was an eminent sociologist at the University of Chicago. Park (1950:267) advanced that there is every reason to believe that when the Negro landed in the United States, “he (sic) left behind almost everything but his dark complexion and his tropical temperament” (Italics added). For example, Park (1950:273) in Race and Culture, described “shouting” among African Americans living on the Sea Island as merely an expression of group emotions rather than an African cultural trait. He also explained that blues and spirituals were born of the plantation culture. Park (1959:269) claimed that African Americans brought from Africa so few traditions which they were able to transmit that it made them a unique race (italics added). He concluded that Negroes copied, adopted, and placed their stamps on European values (Wacker 1983:46).
The belief that African Americans did not have any real ancestral ties with Africa and that their values were inferior to white Americans would figure prominently in the Carnegie Corporation’s commissioned study by Karl Gunnar Myrdal ([1944:11] 1962), a Swedish economist. With the assistance of various scholars, he examined racial beliefs, migration patterns, plantation economy, housing conditions, politics, and the black church, among other subjects. In a two volume classic study, An American Dilemma, Myrdai (1962:113-127) concluded that Negroes had a culture but it was characteristically American and that Negroes were not proud of those things in their lives that differentiated them from white Americans.
He considered the Negro a social problem because of the ever raging conflict between the ideas preserved in the American Creed and the beliefs which Negroes and Caucasians held (Myrdal 1962:928-929). “These contentions are mediated by local interests; economic, social, and sexual jealousies; . . . and all sort of miscellaneous wants, impulses, and habits” concluded Myrdal (1962:928- 929). However, he wrote, “We assume that it is to the advantage of American Negroes as individuals and as a group to become assimilated into American culture, and to acquire the traits held in esteem by the dominant white Americans” (Myrdal 1962:928-929). In other words, he suggested that African American culture is inconsequential. Also, he inferred, if African Americans want to integrate into the mainstream, it would be best if they detached themselves from the culture that differentiates them from white Americans. Like Boas, he advised African Americans to change their identity.
Herskovits’ (1958) theory concerning African Americans would lie dormant for almost forty years primarily because many black activists during the 1930s and 1940s demanded the integration of blacks into the American society (Williams 1989:178). Many prominent African Americans were a political force to be reckoned. E. Franklin Frazier, Ralph Bunche, and other Howard University professors adopted a strong assimilationist stance (Jackson 1985:243). Jackson (1985:249) states that even during the Myrdal study, Roy Wilkins stressed assimilation, a NAACP position. He anticipated that the study would help guide the United States government’s treatment of the Negro (Jackson 1985:249). Hence, the majority of the research subsequently held white American values as the standard by which to judge African American culture. This paradigm ushered in a pejorative tradition in the study of African Americans. Culture is frequently substituted for race but the ideas mirror the assertion of nineteenth century cultural evolutionists.
Not only were African Americans able to influence the outcome of research concerning their culture, the Carnegie and the Rosenwald foundations refused for several years to fund future research concerning African Americans. Jackson (1985:264) writes that “one of the effects of the Myrdal Project was to dry up foundation money for studies of black communities, culture, and social structure for the next twenty years.” The Carnegie Corporation and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, two major funding bodies denied money to many researchers interested in studying African Americans and to Du Bois, who wished to publish an encyclopedia on Negroes (Jackson 1985:263). After the war, Herskovits, directed his studies towards Africa because funds were not available for domestic research. In an interview with Williams (1989:263), St. Clair Drake, an anthropologist, called the Myrdal project, “the study to end all studies…. It was the end of an epoch.”
“The decade of the 1960s marked a rediscovery of the Negro American by scholars” (Rainwater 1970:1). The post Myrdal era lasted from the late 1940s to the 1960s (Rainwater 1970:3; Jackson 1989:263). When the protest movements among African Americans surged, the government asked social scientists for assistance. Many sociologists and a few anthropologists responded.
A significant number of studies, during this period, argued that African Americans were a culturally deprived. In other words, some scholars contended that African Americans were a race. Researchers who advanced the pejorative view of African American culture operationally defined their theses by comparing the morals and values of African Americans with those of middleclass white Americans. Unfortunately, these sociologists adopted an anthropological concept of culture without the benefit of ethnographic data and misused it (Cerroni-Long 1987:445). For example, Nathan Glazer’s and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s (1963:50) Beyond the Melting Pot exemplifies this approach. Describing the Negro family, they argued that the illegitimacy rate “among Negroes is about (italics added) fourteen to fifteen times that among whites.” They resolved that part of the reason for this problem is as follows:
When the Negro father is incapable of contributing to support (as Negro fathers often do), when fathers and mothers refuse to accept responsibility for and resent their children, as Negro parents, overwhelmed by difficulties so often do, and when the family situation, instead of being clear-cut and with defined roles and responsibilities, is left vague and ambiguous (as it so often is in Negro families) ‘(Glazer and Moynihan 1963:50).
The work of these authors is not an examination of African Americans’ concept of their families. Instead it is an imposition of Glazer’s and Moynihan’s values on African Americans. Hence, they concluded, that “The Negro is only an American, and nothing else and has no values and culture to guard and protect” (Glazer and Moynihan 1963:53.)
Kenneth B. Clark (1965:70) also affirmed a deficit model of culture. In Dark Ghetto, a report to President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, Clark (1965:xiii & 70) argued that a matriarchy exists among African American living in the ghetto. He perceived that “sexual hierarchy . . . played a crucial role in the structure and pathology of the Negro family.” He attributed the African American male’s inability to psychologically support his normal desire for dominance (italics added) to the hierarchial role of women and slavery (Clark 1965:70). Hence, the woman’s strength, he argued, tends “to perpetuate the weaker role of the Negro male” (Clark 1965:70). These types of comparative “cultural studies” deny the legitimacy and relativity of African American culture.
The Black Consciousness and “soul” movements generated a belief that African Americans represent a subculture shaped by ghetto life (Blauner 1970:131). Lee Rainwater (1970:7) writes that the research of the Sixties viewed lower class Negro subculture as acquiring limited functional autonomy from conventional culture.
Elliot Liebow’s (1967) Tally’s Corner is an example of a study that represents African Americans as a subculture. Liebow (1967), as part of a government study on child rearing practices of African Americans in the District of Columbia, researched street corner life of a group of African American men. Hyland Lewis (1967:xlii) characterized them as “losers.” He argued that the street corner is a place of solace for the African American male who has been excluded in society. The values and goals of this culture reflect a subculture trying to conceal its failure in the larger society concluded Lewis ( 1967:xlli).
A small group of scholars have begun to pose counter arguments to race informed studies. Their research is based on Herskovits’ (1958) theoretical framework. These studies have focused significantly on the presence of Africanisms in the African Diaspora. Although, few of these studies specifically address Africans living in the United States. For example, in 1967, at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, a symposium was held on “Negroes in the New World.” Studies concerning African Americans were conspicuously missing (Whitten and Szwed 1970:49). This conference generated a volume that primarily analyzed African cultures in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
However, the proceedings from the symposium reveal that some scholars fostered the concept of African Americans as a cultural group. Blauner’s (1970) asserted that African Americans are an ethnic group. Kochman (1970) and Stack (1974) addressed ‘rapping in the ghetto’ and survival strategies among fictive kin in the black community, respectively. Kochman (1970) concluded that rap was instrumental to African American life but he did not place rap in the context of the political and economic system.
During the same period, other research on black urban life emerged. Lee Rainwater (1970:10) wrote The Black Experience, an analysis of a black ghetto. Ulz Hannerz (1970) a Swedish anthropologist who studied a neighborhood in Washington, D. C. discussed the significance of the concept of “soul.” He concluded that “soul” developed in response to structural inequalities and it is a statement of alternative ideas to the social system.
In “Black Culture: Lower Class Result or Ethnic Creation'” Blauner (1970) posited that African Americans are a distinctive culture group whose many cultural practices can be traced back to Africa. Blauner (1970:139) proposed that Africans did not come to this country as Negroes. He reasoned that their ethnicity is largely shaped out of their continuous struggle to surmount racial exclusion and denigration that are fostered by sociopolitical conditions in the United States (Blauner 1970:145). He concluded, “Afro-American culture is. . .ethnic” and its core is an African American political history (Blauner 1970:145).
Blauner’s (1970:145) thesis is supported by Lawrence Levine (1977) who wrote Black Culture and Black Consciousness. Levine (1977:xi) argued that upon the hard rock of racial, social, and economic exploitation and injustice black Americans forged and nurtured a culture; they formed and maintained kinship networks, made love, raise and socialized children, built a religion, and created a rich expressive culture in which they articulated their feelings and d ream s.
He analyzed folktales, proverbs, jokes, verbal games and narrative oral poems to document a history of Afro-American folk thought (Levine 1977:xiii). He indicated that the sacred universe created by enslaved Africans provided a serious alternative to the societal system created by slaveholders (Levine 1977:54). Hence, he concluded the religiosity, the sacred songs and texts were political means of addressing their enslavement. He showed how these folk practices emerged from the social structure.
In the last two decades, a small but significant group of researchers have continued to argue that distinct patterns of African American culture exists. Africanisms in American Culture, an edited volume by Joseph Holloway (1990) explores the cultural survivals found in historical, linguistic, religious, and artistic perspectives of African American life. For example, Jessie Gaston Mulira (1990:34- 68) documents the historical presence of Voodoo religion in New Orleans and explains how a desire to make money and governmental suppression against the practice of voodoo led to the prominence of hoodoo, a magical aspect of voodoo. Robert Hall (1990:98-118) shows how African Americans in Florida during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries retained various African religious practices. Spirit possession, naming, funeral rites found in Florida during this time were also found among continental Africans. Patricia Jones-Jackson (1987) provides a comprehensive view of Sea Island culture, linguistic patterns and folklore in When Roots Die. She records the evidences of Africanisms in present Sea Island culture. Also, she illustrates how the commercialization of the Island by outsiders displaces islanders and disrupts the continuity of their lives.
However, not all anthropologists link African American culture and ethnicity to Africa. For example, Staiano (1987:27-33) theorizes in “Ethnicity as Process: The Creation of An Afro-American Identity,” that ethnicity among African Americans is a dynamic process that reflects their cultural adaptation to race. While acknowledging the significant role that race plays in shaping African American world view, she denies the presence of Africanisms. She advocates that African American culture evolved independently of any African influence. Staiano does not support her arguments with ethnographic data. In The Birth of African American Culture. Mintz and Price (1992:18) contend that any research suggesting African retentions among African Americans “involves risky oversimplications.” These authors insinuate that it is difficult to conceive of African Americans as creating a culture connected to Africa because “culture is closely tied to the institutional forms which articulates it” (Mintz and Price 1992:14). Therefore, they consider African Americans to be a New World phenomenon.
Anthropologists (Willis 1972; Szwed; 1972; Blauner 1970; Drake 1978; Walker 1978; Cerroni-Long 1987) offer diverse reasons for the lack of data concerning African American culture and the persistent force of a racial paradigm. The causes given may be traced to the social structure.
Williams S. Willis (1972:122) charges that the lack of anthropological investigation into African American culture is related to the purpose which anthropology was organized. He recommends that anthropology was initially developed to further the goals of European imperialism. Therefore, it became to a “considerable extent . . . the social science that studies dominated colored people — and their ancestors — living outside of the boundaries of modern white societies” (italics added) (Willis 1972:123). Consequently, the constructs of race and evolutionism were integrated into the discipline and used to foster an attitude of intellectual superiority of European people and Western expansion (Willis 1972:125- 129; Cerroni-Long 1987:439).
The dominance of race during the Boas’ era, Willis (1972:139) hypothesizes, was not primarily motivated by the plight of colored people. He suggests that Boas used “scientific anti-racism” to attack anti-Semitism and to gain intellectual control over anthropology (Willis 1972:139). Willis (1972:139) reasons that Boas used anthropometric measurements to refute racism against Jews and rid the profession of the influence of its earliest theoreticians. Hyatt (1985:283) suggests that after Boas was dismissed from the Smithsonian Institution as an Honorary Philologist and lost his seat on the National Research Council, he was convinced that “Americans would not tolerate anyone who failed to fit totally into their traditional way of life.” Therefore, Boas concluded that color differences had to disappear before African Americans would be accepted (Hyatt 1985:283).
Cerroni-Long (1987:441) disagrees with Willis (1972). She contends that Boas and his students were emotionally committed to the acculturation of African Americans. She proposes that Boas was a fighter for civil rights along with W. E. B. Du Bois. Therefore, his activism led him to advance the anthropometric studies of Africans (Cerroni-Long 1987:441). Cerroni-Long (1987:441) explains that “to consider blacks as a separate cultural group was made difficult for the Boasians by their definition of culture as an integrated whole rooted in a well defined physical setting.” African Americans were considered impure, acculturated, ex- slaves and “poor subjects for cultural anthropology originally bent on reconstructing the ethnographic past of isolated societies” (Szwed 1972:155; Cerroni-Long:1987:441). Szwed (1972:155) posits that African Americans were geographically too close and their status was too low status for professional prestige in American society.
The image and idea of African Americans not meeting the criteria of culture, left much of the research about them in the hands of sociologists (Williams 1989; Cerroni-Long 1987:444-445). Sociology is considered to be a profession designed to study contemporary problems in the United States. Therefore, sociologists have been called upon to find solutions to the “Negro Problem” (Williams 1989:5). Overwhelmingly, theories of racial determination have undergirded sociological examinations of African Americans (Williams 1989). Sociologists have relied upon the caste-like arrangements of race and assimilation. Therefore, theses defining African Americans as a culturally deprived, underclass and endangered species continue to be generated in the existing literature.
Jackson (1985:263), Willis (1972), and Drake (1987) suggest that the pervasive theoretical misinterpretation of African American culture and the lack of recognition of African American ethnic identity are influenced by the lack of African American anthropologists. In “Reflection on Anthropology and the Black Experience,” Drake (1978:86-94) remembers that the first doctorate degrees in anthropology were awarded to eleven African Americans between 1930 and 1945. He recalls that increased number of African Americans did not enter the field until late the 1960s and early 1970s (Drake 1978:100). Frank discussions between African and white American anthropologists have encouraged anthropologists to reconsider their concept of African American culture (Drake 1987:100). Blauner (1970) says that African American anthropologists are able to interpret the emic perspectives of their communities.
Regardless of the major factors shaping the dominant influence of race in the social science discourse concerning African Americans, it is necessary to understand race in a political context. Race is a myth and a superstitious belief (Montagu 1964a; Brazun 1965). Ashley Montagu (1964a:23) argues in Man’s Most Danaerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, that race is adopted as an expedient fiction. There is no scientific evidence that humans can be divided according to physical characteristics (Montagu 1964a:24). Montagu (1964a:127) suggests that race is really a caste system that is reified as genetically derived.
Banton (1987:50) argues that these racial thoughts flourished in the United States as Europeans in America sought to break their relationship with England. The need to create a sense of national unity and the declaration of independence supported the idea of Anglo-Saxon superiority and the inferiority of Africans in America and their enslavement (Barton 1987:49; Forbes 1990:8).
Researchers argue that the concept of race exists to support the subordination of African Americans. Van den Berghe (1967:17) writes in Race and Racism that “there is no question that the desire to rationalize the exploitation of non-European peoples fostered the elaboration of a complex ideology of paternalism and racism.” Wilson (1973) who examines racially generated power relationships assumes that differential power is a marked feature of racial group classification in complex societies. In the United States, the concept of race was used to empower merchants to sell Africans as commodities (Baker 1983:24-40). Other researchers (Baker 1983:25; Brass 1985; Rothschild 1982; van den Berghe 1967; Forbes 1990:5 ) confirm also that in racially dominated societies, race exists to justify and sustain economic exploitation and maximize profits. During slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States from the 1800s until the 1920s, there was a pervasive and explicit assumption in the social science literature that Africans were inferior and a different species (Stocking 1981 :39). Therefore theories of craniometry, eugenics, and polygenesis were advanced (van den Berghe 1967:2; Stocking 1982:101). The research supported societal beliefs and laws. For example, Paul Broca who studied human hybridity argued that the races were physically different. Therefore, he concluded that the offspring of a Negro man and a Caucasian woman would be sterile (Stocking 1982:48). However, Broca contended that the reverse was true if a Negro woman mated with a Caucasian male (Stocking 1982:48). This research was conducted during a period when various states prohibited intermarriage between Negroes and whites and many African American males were Iynched for almost any relationship with white women. Today, dominant theories foster an idea of a black underclass and black males as endangered species. Such concepts support societal assumptions that the marginal status of African Americans is divorced from the social structure. Such theses are supported by the National Institute of Health’s proposal to determine if criminality and violence among African American males are innate.
Jack Forbes (1990) in “The Manipulation of Race, Caste and Identity” concisely explains why social scientists fail to significantly study African American identity.
When we turn to the study of African American historical revelations and identities we are, inevitably, thrust into a complex arena where racism, colonialism, and ethnocide stand as extremely significant themes. The tensions created by almost five centuries of exploitation and unequal privilege render the subject a very sensitive one. We are not dealing with systems of denigration which came to an end ages ago but, instead, with a continuing reality (Forbes 1990:9).
CHAPTER 2 CONTINUED. . .
Political Economy of Urban Renewal
and Redevelopment and African Americans
“Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?”
— W.E.B. Du Bois (1969:45)
Colonization and dislocation are embedded in the history of urban renewal and redevelopment in African American communities. Economic schemes contribute to the restriction and displacement of African Americans. Social networks are sacrificed to make way for private/public ventures such as hotels and sports stadiums. Structural and social costs to these disrupted neighborhoods by urban redevelopment are often high. These conditions nurture the criminalization of many African American women and men (Hacker 1992:19 &197). In these next few pages, l will provide an overview of the historical conditions that led to the development of urban African American communities and their demise by urban renewal.
The failure of agriculture in the South, poor job opportunities in the rural areas, the inability to extract oneself from the indebtedness of sharecropping, and the lack of European immigrants to work in manual labor led many African Americans to migrate to urban areas in the South and the North (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:34; Cobb 1984; Berry and Blassingame 1982:198). In many instances they were recruited by northern mills, foundries, assembly plants, and southern railroads (Fusfeld 1984:26). David Katzman (1973:207), contemplates that between 1910 and 1930, the African American population in Detroit grew sevenfold.
However, African Americans were not welcomed by many of the White American residents. For example, the Chicago riot in 1919 was motivated by migration of African Americans, housing conflicts, and concerns over jobs (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:123). Twenty-six riots occurred throughout the United States during that time.
Such tensions led city leaders to restrict African Americans to certain areas by racial covenants. To block the expansion of African Americans, real estate firms, property owners, and banking institutions conspired to permit African Americans to live only in certain neighborhoods (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:31). An agreement to sell property only to certain people, maintained racial segregation in the North and South. Kenneth Kusmer (1978:46) communicates that in Cleveland that there was a pervasive strategy of selling to “whites only.” He says that a prominent black citizen of Cleveland complained that there was an unofficial policy among Cleveland’s Real Estate Board to not sell or rent to Negroes in some desirable neighborhoods, no matter how much money they had (Kusmer 1978:46). These covenants were legally reinforced until 1948 when the Supreme Court overruled the practice in Shelley v Kramer (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:31). Perrin (1977:122 &192) records that the cultural logic justified the segregation of blacks because they were perceived as “dangerous.”
Occasionally, some real estate developers did not follow the agreement because they could make a profit by renting depressed property to African Americans (Tabb 1970:14-18). When African Americans began to move into an area, often white Americans would flee and seek other locations. Therefore, the speculation by the realtors would create the same effect as the racial covenants. African Americans were eventually resegregated.
Not only were urban African Americans residentially isolated, they were also crowded into “internal colonies” known as ghettos argues Tabb (1970:2-3). To make great profits, slumlords subdivided rental units and charged high rents (Tabb 1970:14). Robert C. Weaver suggests that African Americans in northern cities were usually restricted to ‘the least desirable segments of low-income area’ (Kusmer 1978:47). Spatially, these communities became densely populated islands. Kusmer (1978:48) explains that in Cleveland the densities of the African American neighborhoods ranged from forty-eight to eighty-two inhabitants per acre, while that of Cleveland as a whole was only thirteen per acre. Katzman (1973:207) depicts Detroit’s ‘black bottom’ as literally as city within a city.
Residential segregation was not restricted to Northern cities. In the South, African Americans who migrated to urban southern cities for better opportunities found themselves also in enclosed communities. For example, Ray Arsenault (1988:124-125) writes in St. Petersbura and the Florida Dream, that African Americans settled primarily in distinct communities south of the railroad tracks. He recounts that “the boundaries of black settlement remained easily identifiable and nearly inviolate.” Arsenault (1988:269) writes that during 1930s and 1940s housing for this groups was overcrowded, substandard and often malignly neglected by white absentee landlords. “Black neighborhoods were inescapable reminders of racial separation and inequality” records Arsenault (1988:269).
In Detroit (Katzman 1973), Cleveland (Kusmer 1976), St. Petersburg (Arsenault 1988), and Harlem (Gutman 1976:453-455), African Americans lived separate and distinct lives. Churches, businesses and other social institutions began to develop. Booker T. Washington established the National Negro Business League in 1910 (Ijere 1978:50). W. D. Fard, in 1930 organized the Black Muslims (Berry and Blassingame 1982:110). The Harlem Renaissance was born. African Americans prospered in personal services such as, entertainment, hairdressing, undertaking, barbering, and dentistry because of the lack of competition and a dearth of credit (Ijere 1978:50). Williams (1989:129-144) suggests that in 1928, Robert Park argued that there were basically two societies in America. He hypothesized that instead of whites looking down at blacks, they were looking across at parallel businesses and institutions (Williams 1989:129- 144).
Although, these communities became home and nurtured new dimensions of African American culture, they were targeted for urban renewal and redevelopment. By 1937, much of the housing in these central city neighborhoods had deteriorated because of overcrowding and lack of code enforcement (Fusfeld and Bates 1984). Greer (1965:15) asserts in Urban Renewal and American Cities that President Roosevelt aimed to prime the economy by improving housing stock that had deteriorated during the Depression. This goal motivated the enactment of the Housing Act of 1937. Greer (1965:15) writes that the first slum clearance effort consisted of designating homes as dilapidated, tearing down offending slums, and replacing them with public housing. No such housing was ever built in middle-class areas. In the process, many African American neighborhoods were destroyed.
The development of low-income housing for the poor and primarily African Americns, led many national trade organizations involved in the financing and developing of real estate to the question who should benefit from urban renewal (Foard and Fefferman 1968:92; Johnson 1989:186). Hence, they were very instrumental in ensuring that Housing Act of 1949 contained provision for redevelopment of cities. these special interest groups sought to increase the funds available to redevelop their businesses. they pressured their representatives to use redevelopment funds to provide downtown commercial centers with parking spaces and attractions in order to encourage investment in downtown retail properties (Foard and Fefferman 1968:113). Therefore, the 1949 Housing Act required that only 10 percent of the total grant allocation could be used for residential redevelopment. The land could contain blight slums and deteriorated buildings which could be destroyed to promote public safety and welface (Foard and Fefferman 1968:98-99).
The Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954 enabled cities to purchase blighted land, clear it, and sell it to a private developer at below market price (Johnson 1989:67; Gans 1968: 538-539). these restrictions led Congress to abandon low-income housing as the core of urban renewal and to designate it as urban redevelopment (Bridges and Finegold 1982:18). Greer (1965:17) argues that objections to the public housing provisions acted as a stalking horse for urban redevelopment. He explains that in the intensity of opposition to public housing, the program to clear land and sell it on the market excaped radical censure (Greer 1965:17). He quotes one conservative critic as saying, I am in favor of the slum elimination section. I am opposed to the public housing section (Greer 1965:17). Greer (1965:27) suggests that housing was chiefly a problem among Negroes, therefore support for housing programs dwindled. Hence Title I of the Housing Act of 1949 and the Act of 1954 set the pattern for future urban renewal and redevelopment practices (Davis and Whinston 1966:61).
Herbert Gans (1968:237-557) argues that the original goal of urban renewal was altered to stimulate large-scale private rebuilding, add revenues to the dwindling tax base, revitalize downtown, and halt the defection of middle-class Whites from the inner city. James Wilson (1966:xiv-xv), who edited Urban Renewal: The Record and the Controversy, reasons that the purpose of urban renewal and redevelopment was economic and cultural renewal by local communities. Bernard Frieden and Lynne Sagalyn (1989:24-25) write in Downtown Inc.: How America Rebuilds Cities that the downtown business coalition took over urban renewal and used it to rebuild commercial areas.
Shortly after World War II, several events motivated urban renewal policies for African American communities. Initially, the federal government enacted the National Defense Highway Act of 1956 (Johnson 1989:66-67). Between 1952-1962, the federal aid spent on urban highways was ten times that devoted to urban renewal. This act combined with the support of the Federal Housing and Veteran Administrations by the 1960s accelerated suburban growth for mostly European Americans (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:39). These conditions had devastating consequences for poor and African American communities. In the process, many inner city neighborhoods and business districts were destroyed (Greer 1965:134; Fusfeld and Bates 1984:39; Johnson 1989:67). Susan Greenbaum (1986) in a monograph, Afro-Cubans in Ybor City, documents such phenomenon in Tampa. Greenbaum (1986:26-27) writes that urban renewal destroyed many homes and businesses of Afro-Cubans and their Marti-Maceo society building. Frieden and Sagalyn (1989:28) account similar events in Nashville. For example, engineers originally planned an interstate highway along a railroad route except for a small section that would have eliminated some white owned businesses. Objections to this route by state and local officials led to the creation of an alternate route. This highway cut through the center of a black community, through the campus of Tennessee State, a black college and through sixteen blocks of commercial property owned by blacks (Frieden and Sagalyn 1989:28). Patricia Melvin (1986:45) argues in American Community Ornanizations that “a decade of urban renewal and highway construction, a cycle of blight, abandonment, and social disintegration led to the displacement and relocation of thousands of low-income black residents.” As a result of these social changes, the social fabric of many African American communities began to decline.
Civil rights organizations protested against the neglect and destruction of African American urban communities and urban residents rebelled. For example, the Chicago Urban League challenged the city’s Comprehensive Plan for not allowing African Americans to participate in planning what happened to their communities (Johnson 1989:31). Also, civil disorders occurred in Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and many other African American urban districts (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:231).
In response to these challenges, three major bills advanced the destruction of inner cities neighborhoods rather than revitalize them. The Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act of 1966, the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, and the Urban Development Action Grant program gave local officials more leeway in allocating funds to meet their needs (Johnson 1989:67). Community development is a broad definition of urban renewal. It includes replacing homes with luxury hotels, expensive homes specialty retail centers and sports stadiums among many other ventures private developers and city planners deemed as development (Fusfeld and Bates 1984:134). Kevin Yelvington (1992) documents how African Americans in Miami were displaced during the 1970s and 1980s by an interstate highway, a sport stadium, and luxury apartment complexes.
African American communities frequently are singled out for urban renewal programs. By 1968, two-third of the cleared slums were occupied by African Americans (Gans 1968:543). Freiden and Sagalyn (1989:29) reveal that in Baltimore 90 percent of the 10,000 homes destroyed by urban renewal and interstate development belonged to African Americans. Therefore urban renewal is characterized also as “Negro Removal.”
The involuntary removal from one’s neighborhood represents a marked disruption in a sense of continuity (Fried 1968:376). In a study of residents of the Boston’s West End who were dislocated by urban renewal, Fried (1968:360) found that 26 percent of the 250 women struggled with depression and sadness two years after being relocated. Jeffrey Henig (1984:171) finds that the elderly is particularly vulnerable to the social cost of forced relocation. Disruption of their network of friends and family often speeds their aging (Henig 1984:171). Fried (1968:36) concludes that “grieving for a lost home is evidently a widespread and serious phenomenon following the wake of urban dislocation.” Removal “is likely to increase social and psychological “pathology” in some instances” (Fried 1968:376).
Urban renewal and redevelopment schemes have been motivated significantly by profit. In the process, African American neighborhoods became slums and prime real estate. Social networks and many other elements of African American culture, often fall in the wake of highway construction, stadium development, and other commercial ventures.
CHAPTER 2 CONTINUED. . .
The Ethnogenesis of African Americans
” When I discover who I am, I’ll be free. ” Ralph Ellison “In the face of devastating campaigns of inferiorization, prejudice and oppression, Afro-North Americans have had to forge a united front and generate pride in that which white racism has declared to be evil, that is the possession of an African ancestry” (Forbes 1990:34). African Americans drew upon the external conditions of racism and their internal sense of selfhood, to establish their place in the United States and the world. They adjusted their identities and used various nomenclatures — African, Afro, Colored, Negro, Black and African American, as emblems of their proactive and persistent battle against race. To resist repatriation, to unify, to instill self esteem, and gain access to power, African Americans established movements, cultural renaissance and changed the name of their identity.
Records show that John Rolfe referred to the Africans he brought to Jamestown as “Negars.” Significant evidence reveals that they perceived themselves as Africans. For example, early institutions organized by early Africans included Africa in their titles. The first black religious organization established in Savannah, Georgia in 1787 was named the First African Baptist Church (Holloway 1990:xix). When Richard Allen founded the first Methodist church for African Americans in Philadelphia and he designated it the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1796, Peter Williams established the African Chapel. During this period, the African Clarkson Society, African Dorcas Society, Children of Africa and the New York Society for Mutual Relief also existed (Holloway 1990:xix). Berry and Blassingame (1982:389) write that between 1829 and 1899 the term African or one of its derivatives appeared in the titles of 36 percent of newsnaners and magazines catering to African Americans.
Efforts to repatriate African Americans to Africa from 1817 to 1860 led many African descendants to distance themselves from their African origins (Berry and Blassingame 1982:399; Fuchs 1990:181; Holloway 1990:xix). In 1816 the United States House of Representatives led by Francis Scott Key and Bushrod Washington, a descendant of George Washington, organized the American Colonization Society to colonize Liberia and raise funds to return African Americans to Africa (Berry and Blassingame 1982:55 &399). Although, the Colonization Society argued that African Americans would never receive equal treatment in the United States, many African Americans didn’t trust these Whites (Berry and Blassingame 1982:55). Furthermore, these early African descendants considered America their home. For example, Reverend Peter Williams of New York while speaking July 4, 1830, said ‘We are natives of this country; we ask only to be treated as well as foreigners…. We ask only to be treated as well as those who fought against it’ (Berry and Blassingame 1982:399). This threat, fed many Africans to deny their ancestral link with Africa in order to protect themselves against disfranchisement and repatriation (Holloway 1990:xix).
Fuchs (1990:182) also argues that African Americans were concerned about the pervasive assumption and image that Africans were savages. Therefore, they distanced their identify from such negative symbol.
These conditions motivated Africans in the United States to call themselves colored, a term previously associated with mulattos. This identity was initiated because these African descendants feared an African lineage would jeopardize their stay in America (Holloway 1990:xix; Fuchs 1990:181).
Following, the development of this social convention, W. E. B. Du Bois and Mary Covington in 1909 used colored instead of African when they established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP). Nevertheless, the association was developed primarily to address the denial of civil liberties to African Americans and to remove legal barriers against them. However, Du Bois argued in a response to Roland A. Barton, a high school student, that it did not matter what Negroes call themselves. This pupil questioned Du Bois about the affect of “Negro” on the pride of African Americans (Fuchs 1990:182). Fuchs (1990:182) quotes Du Bois as saying that “a Negro by any other name would be just as black and just as white…. It the Thing that counts.”
Despite Du Bois’ assertion that the name was insignificant, it did matter.to Booker T. Washington. Concerned about disparate national character of the African American community, Washington advocated for the usage of Negro (Holloway 1991 :xix). He felt that this term would unify African Americans (Holloway 1991:xix). Washington successfully influenced the United States government to adopt the term during the 1890s. However, Negro did not become a widely accepted nomenclature among African Americans until the 1950s (Berry and Blassingame 1982:391).
African Americans during the late 1800s and the early part of this century determined that Negro was a reminder of their slave experience. ‘Os Negro’ was synonymous with the Portuguese word for “slave” (Berry and Blassingame 1982:391). Therefore, many African Americans rejected the term. They felt it degraded them. Their concept of the appellation was reinforced by the White Americans’ treatment of “Negro.” Almost a century passed before some newspapers and the United States government capitalized the letter “N” in Negro. W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington joined African Americans newspapers in chiding White American organizations for this practice. Although, the Associated Press adopted the capital “N’ by 1913, the United States Government Printing Press and the New York Times waited until the 1930s before taking such action (Berry and Blassingame 1982:292; Fuchs 1990:183).
Many African Americans also chose not to use Negro, because it was corrupted frequently by White Americans. The term often became either “regress,” “rigger” or “nigra” (Berry and Blassingame 1982:392). During the 1930s, African Americans began to organize against the usage of the word Negro (Berry and Blassingame 1982:392). Malcolm X later ridiculed Africans for using the term Negro. He suggested that “Negro” meant that African Americans had acquiesced to a subservient status.
Despite the constant debate over the use of “Negro,” African Americans retreated into their culture. Increased racism and urbanization among African Americans led to revitalization movements among African Americans during the 1920s (Taylor 1979:1405: Levine 1977:269). The urban migration of African Americans coincided with the return of white and African American soldiers seeking jobs during the waning of a war induced prosperity (Fusfeld and Bates 62 1984:29). The tensions between African and white Americans were so great that African American veterans returning from World War I were Iynched while wearing their uniforms (Levine 1977:269). These virulent acts gave birth to a period of cultural revitalization in literature, art, and entertainment that “explored the roots of Afro-American culture and flirted with dreams of Africa and a separate Negro people” (Levine 1977:269). Both Marcus Garvey’s Back-to- Africa-Movement and the Harlem Renaissance emerged during this time.
The focus of this Negritude movement from 1920 to 1940s was race pride. During this time, Countee Cullen wrote his poem “Heritage” that expressed linkages with Africa. He penned, “What is Africa to me: Copper sun or scarlet sea, Jungle star or jungle track.” Alain Locke, considered the father of the Harlem Renaissance wrote the New Negro. Charles Johnson organized the Opportunity, an Urban League journal that became an organ for intellectual stimulation and artistic expression (Long 1985:75-76). Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes sought to portray the rich cultural traditions of African Americans and to challenge racist assumptions about them during this time (Washington 1979; Bass and Gates 1991).
For many years, African Americans avoided any attempts to link their identity to the word “black.” Berry and Blassingame (1982:393) substantiate that between 1827-1899 only 6 percent of journals published by persons of African descent used “black” in their titles. By 1950, that number had dropped to 3 percent. W. E. B. Du Bois in article in the Crisis, a NAACP publication, wrote that African Americans are instinctively ashamed of their blackness (Berry and Blassingame 1982:393). ‘Black is a caricature in our half conscious thought’ (Berry and Blassingame 1982 :393).
In 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began to alter the consciousness of African Americans toward being black. One of the goal of SNCC was to “organize blacks into a self-conscious social force capable of defining, defending and advancing their interests” (Karenga 1987:18). SNCC politicized African Americans to reject assimilation and to embrace an ideology of Black Power. In 1966, when members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee marched against the shooting of James Meredith in the Mississippi Delta, they introduced the concept of “Black Power” (Hamilton and Fayer 1990). This initiative endowed blackness with positive attributes for African Americans.
Shortly thereafter, “I am Black and Proud” and “Black is Beautiful” slogans appeared. Artists, musicians, and politicians of African descent began to discuss the aesthetic qualities of blackness and advocate a philosophy of Pan-Africanism. Many African Americans asserted their cultural distinction in this country and their connection to Africa. They dressed in African attire and wore their hair naturally. These affirmations along with the student protest movements, nationalistic exhortations of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party raised the consciousness of African Americans. African Americans once called Negroes now embraced their blackness as a symbol of pride. Malcolm X and other members of the Black Muslims in the United States discarded their Anglicized surnames and replaced them with “X”. Many African American college students demanded Black Studies programs. At San Francisco State College in 1966, the Negro Student Association was renamed the Black Student Union (Karenga 1990:21). Berry and Blassingame (1982:295-296) suggest that the transformation was so effective that by 1973, 82 percent of the autobiographical works by African Americans contained “black” as a racial designation.
A black identity raised the cultural consciousness of African Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. However, by 1982 many African Americans were more attached to the identity of their skin than they were to Africa. Jaynes and Williams (1989:197) surveyed 503 people and found that 72 percent preferred to be called “black.” Only 7 percent identified themselves as “African Americans.” Even 12 percent chose to use “colored.” Hence the majority of African Americans have continued to refer to themselves as black. Drake (1987:58) infers that African Americans are not willing to embrace an ethnic identity as readily as they are to adopt a racial identity. He argues many African Americans believe that ethnicity distracts from the issue of racial discrimination (Drake 1987:58).
However in 1988, a group of African Americans leaders led by Jesse Jackson announced that blacks preferred to be called African Americans (Martin 1991). Jackson argues that all other ethnic groups trace their heritage back to a common land. He asserts that Negroland and Blackland do not exist. The true identity of African Americans, he advocates, must be linked to Africa as the Chinese are connected to China. Jackson’s words echo J. C. Embry’s call in 1896 for the universal use of Afro- American. He said, ‘The descendants of our African forefathers should neither adopt nor recognize the intended stigma which European and American slaveholders invented for us…. If any man ask why so, tell him that she (Africa) is the land of our origin’ (Berry and Blassingame 1982:390). The call for an African American identity situates African Americans in a cultural and historical context, attests Jackson (Martin 1991 :83).
A new consciousness movement called Afrocentricity has merged among African Americans. Unlike the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Power movement, this cultural reawakening unabashedly anchors Africa at the center of the African American world view and identity. Philosophically, Molefi Asante (1989:6), the author most instrumental in defining Afrocentricity, writes that it is “the belief in the centrality of Africans in post modern history.” It is the process of Africans building on their ancestry in order to affirm their African world view and to ensure the collective will of Africans in the Diaspora (Asante 1989:6). Asante (1989:1) proclaims Afrocentricity regenerates African Americans.
Just as in previous years, cultural nationalism that currently exists among African Americans is tied to structural conditions and a rise in racism. During the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, African Americans saw many gains made eroded. For example, these presidents encouraged the Supreme Court to roll back affirmative action and appointed judges who were hostile to the concept (Jacob 1989:3). In addition, openly racist organizations such as neo-Nazi groups have reemerged and many African Americans have become victims of hate crimes in cities throughout the United States (Jacob 1 989:3).
Hence, the evolution of nomenclatures among African Americans exist neither in a political void nor an economic vacuum. An assertion of various names in conjunction with consciousness movements is an authentic process of self- determination that is underscored by a collective drive to improve the status of African Americans in this country (De Vos and Romanucci-Ross 1975).
Multicultural Education: A Struggle for Enculturation
Changing their collective nomenclature is not the only method that African Americans have used to reduce the domination of white American ideologies. Intervening in the educational process of their children is another technique African Americans have employed to suppress the cultural hegemony of white America. During the 1950s, African Americans pursued a legal course of action to remove discrimination against their children caused by segregated education. However, a decade after many of the schools were desegregated, especially in the South, African Americans have discovered a disproportionate number of their children either drop out of school or fail. African Americans charge that school administrators and teachers perpetuate race, class, and gender biases against African Americans students (Bennett and LeCompte 1990:96). Beginning in the 1960s, African Americans began protesting the role of schools in perpetuating a predominant Anglo-Saxon world view in the education of their children. Since 1970s the concerns of the African American community have been channeled into a multicultural education movement. This sociopolitical process is designed to reduce the effects of racism and acculturation against their children, and empower them to realize their human potential (Olneck 1990:147).
Despite the intent of the African American community to transform the education of their children into a more relevant process, multicultural education is defined in various ways. James Banks (1988:96) identifies eleven “multicultural education paradigms.” He classifies these topologies according to assumptions, goals, and practices. These models range from the goal of assimilating students to raising the consciousness of students and teachers about the nature of capitalist stratified societies. On this continuum, exist beliefs that children are culturally deprived, culturally different, genetically inferior, exotic, and that racism is a problem in the school system. The majority of multicultural education paradigms are derivations of assimilation except for those prototypes that challenge racism and nurture cultural pluralism (Banks 1988: 96-97).
Researchers (Olneck 1990: 163; Ohaegbulam 1990:6; Bennett and LeCompte 1990:224) argue that typically minorities are “inserted” in the dominant cultural frame of reference and cultural hierarchies and criteria of stratification remain intact. Hence, the current trend in multicultural education is to focus on music, dance, folklore, and heroes of diverse cultural groups. However, these cultural elements are often divorced from their indigenous backgrounds. Textbooks and lesson plans allude to the “contributions” of African Americans but such knowledge is framed in a white American world view (Hacker 1992:40).
In response to this persistent hegemonic force, African Americans have expanded the multicultural movement beyond the classroom. Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ implemented a national rite of passage program for African American adolescents (Warfield-Coppock and Harvey 1989). This program exists among the 52 known community based approaches that are designed to transmit indigenous knowledge to African American children.
Multiculturai education as a process of liberation is embedded in these projects. Three assumptions are found in this prototype of multicultural education (Olneck 1990:148). (1.) It is assumed that the construct should enhance the communal and collective lives of African Americans. (2.) It is recognized that the liberation struggle of African Americans is legitimate. (3.) Also, the concept is expected to support the salience of African Americans’ participation in the society. This process, write Aronowitz and Giroux (1991:101) allows students to recover their own voices so they can retell their own histories and in doing so ‘check and criticize the history they are told against the one they have lived.’
These goals for community based multicultural education are supported by African American ethnicity. This complex and dynamic phenomenon provides African Americans students with a consistent picture of the development and growth of the African American world view. It reveals how the African American epistemology is shaped by the social structure (Green 1 981 :77).
A major assumption of this approach is that all human beings live in what for them is a multicultural world (Goodenough 1978:5). African Americans youths who are aware of their own ethnic culture are empowered to interact effectively on their own terms in their own culture and with members of other cultural groups (Goodenough 1978:5)
From 1619 to the present the ethnicity of African American has been influenced by economic, political, social factors, and race. These variables led to the abrogation of their proprietary rights, their involuntary servitude, and limitation of their economic opportunities. Furthermore, the social structure created by the political economy informs anthropological studies and public policies concerning their communities and education. Against these forces Africans from disparate parts of the African continent have blended many world views into a collective perspective in order to survive individually.
Hence, African Americans have migrated, developed consciousness movements, and challenged the legal system in order to find their place in the American society. Through the collective consciousness of being black and African, civil rights protests, and black nationalist movements, African Americans have improved their status in the United States. Yet, they have not been able to erase the stigma of race from their lives. This externally imposed and subordinating construct remains an indomitable force in how African Americans erect their world.
The study of the political economy of ethnicity among African Americans in St. Petersburg is a qualitative examination of the lived experiences of the African American community and the social structures that shape their world view. The aim of this research is not to determine the number of African Americans who share a common heritage, nor how frequently they invoke certain traditions and customs.
Instead, the goal of this inquiry is to study the phenomenon of ethnicity among African Americans. Also, another objective of this investigation is to gain insight into the socialization of African American youths. This dissertation is a qualitative analysis of the political economy of ethnicity and an application of that knowledge in a program for adolescents.
Guided by the methodological assumptions of ethnohistory, oral life histories, and visual anthropology, this research is representative of the world views of diverse community members as expressed in both oral testaments and written documents. An explanation of the approaches and applications in this research are included in this chapter. These methods are illumined further through a discussion of the internship milieu in which I collected the data. Also, the procedures for acquiring informants and project participants are outlined.
Internship: Field Setting
The Enoch Davis Community Center, located in the Southside of St. Petersburg provided the space and supervision for this applied research project for youths. For many African Americans, the Enoch Davis Center is seen as a major social anchor in the community. As a focal gathering place for African Americans living in the “Southside” of St. Petersburg, this city-owned multipurpose center has been continually a source of leadership, training, tutoring, counseling, and recreational activities. Its facilities include a branch library, a congregate dining hall, meeting rooms and space for social service agencies. This site allows diverse elements of the African American community to come together and to articulate, promote, and preserve African American ethnicity.
A nine-month internship was conducted in this setting. The goals of the internship were fourfold. It was anticipated that a documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans in St. Petersburg would: (1.) contribute to an understanding of their world views, (2.) provide insight into the social changes that affect the ethnicity of African American youths, (3.) increase the awareness of African American juveniles concerning their cultural heritage and (4.) help foster the preservation of the ethnic history of African Americans. It was assumed that the documentation of the history of African Americans in St. Petersburg and the conditions that shape their ethnic identity would expand our knowledge of the current status of African American youths and help nurture a sense of belonging among them.
This internship was designed to apply the collected oral history of African Americans in St. Petersburg into a formal program for African American youths aged 11 to 17 years old. A final aspect of the project included depositing all collected data in the Center’s library.
The data collection, comprised of recording oral history interviews, examining archival research, videotaping activities and sites, and consulting with local historians who have studied St. Petersburg. Data were supplemented by researching Polk street directories, newspaper articles, county maps, city files and books concerning St. Petersburg. For the primary data, l collected oral histories from 32 African Americans who had lived in St. Petersburg for at least 20 years; on average informants had lived in St. Petersburg for 50 years. Five of these 32 informants were selected for more extensive life histories. Secondary information was collected through consultations with Drs. Ray Arsenault, Darryl Paulson, Maria Vesperi and Ms. Ellen Babb. Arsenault (1988) wrote St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream: 1888-1950. Paulson (1982) studied extensively the desegregation of schools in Pinellas County. Vesperi (1985) authored City of Green Benches, a study of elderly residents affected by downtown development. Babb, a local historian created a pictorial display of African Americans in St. Petersburg from 1888 to 1988. To gain a representative view of African Americans in St. Petersburg, diverse people were interviewed and various sources were explored.
Ethnohistory, life history, visual anthropology and statistical analysis of economic conditions were the methods chosen to help elucidate the political economy of ethnicity among African Americans in St. Petersburg. Ethnicity is a dynamic process that is created by social conditions and reflected in the historical consciousness of a group of people. This research required methods which permitted an examination of cultural change and development at the community and individual levels (Waters 1990). Both ethnohistory and life histories are used to chart continuities and discontinuities.
To illustrate historical patterns and environmental changes in the African American community and to contribute to the development of library’s archives, significant events and artifacts were filmed. For example, social activities, aerial maps, photographs of social activities, homes, and institutions were recorded. The goal was not to produce a documentary. Instead, I sought to record cultural elements that would provide context to African American life (Denzin 1989:21 1).
Ethnohistory and oral life history are biographical methods that are used to place groups and individuals in historical contexts. Euler (1972:201) defines ethnohistory as an advancement of the understanding of various cultures and cultural processes through an analysis of human group behavior and time, using protocols of a historic nature. Life history is a retrospective account by an individual of an aspect of his or her life (Watson and Watson-Franke 1985:2). An ethnohistory is a documentation of nomothetic processes, while life history is an idiographic perspective of ritualized norms of behavior of a particular life within a culture (Angrosino 1989a:7). Understanding the syntheses of collective consciousness of a group and their uniqueness are made possible by the employment of these biographical tools.
The life stories of African Americans are used to chart cultural and social phenomena and the changes which have been created by various events (Sturtevant 1967: 6-7). Through the use of written and oral documents, life histories and ethnohistories are constructed to define the growth of persons in an environment and make theoretical sense of it (Dollard 1949: 3). The means persons use to meet the traditional expectations of their cultural group are examined through these instruments.
The narration of past conditions and changes and their effects on the lives of African Americans permit an analysis of their world view. Although persons make choices about life, their referents typically are their ethnic communities and they in turn are emblematic of those collectives (Royce 1981:66). This approach was used to gain knowledge of values which are instilled in African Americans and bond them together. This technique also allowed an examination of the impact that social changes such as the Civil Rights movement, desegregation, the black nationalist movement, and urban redevelopment have on African American ethnicity. Through an exploration of life conflicts, economic status, ideas and adaptations to crises (such as joblessness and displacements) an individual’s perception of his or her ethnic identity will emerge (De Vos 1975). Biographical sketches uncovered how African Americans live, the meaning of their lives and the conditions which shape them.
A human being is not an individual but a singular universal declared Jean Paul Sarte (in Ferrarotti 1981:29). Being at once universal, through the singular universality of human history and singular through the universalizing singularity of his projects, the individual needs to be studied from both perspectives simultaneously (Ferrarotti 1981:29). Personal narratives permit researchers to study historical change, collective praxis, and the relationship between the individual and the collective (Bertaux 1981:6). Therefore, this methodology allowed an understanding of the core world of African Americans, as well as the larger political economy that casts them.
A slice of the larger culture is shown through the lives of individuals (Angrosino 1989a:1). “Every life is a moral, political, medical, technical and economic production” (Denzin 1989:29). To understand the patterns of dialectical materialism within a society, and the relationship between historical changes and life experiences, knowledge of the individual’s location in history and his or her life stages are needed (Elder 1986:86 ). Hence, ethnohistory was used in this study to explore ethnic boundaries of African Americans and the geopolitical conditions which created their world views between 1920 and 1990.
“Films . . . have proved to be useful for the analysis of culture,” says Margaret Mead (Worth 1981 :191). Anthropologists use films to illustrate patterns of cultures as well as to educate outsiders about different cultures. Franz Boas recorded Kwakiutl Indian crafts and games; Herskovits used films to show the presence of Africanisms in Haiti (Homiak 1990); and Bateson and Mead “innovated the use of film and photography as ethnographic media” (Jacknis 1988:162). Adair and Worth (Gross 1981:xi) also taught Navajo students film- making and studied how peoples of different cultures and groups structured their world through films. In field work, the visual media of film are memory aids to the scientist, comparable to a pencil, notebook, or word processor (Gross 1981 :190).
Anthropological film-making is a method by which one can use to study, describe and present the customs and ways of people all over the world (Worth 1981:78). Nevertheless, anthropologists are warned that films are not necessarily objective truth. Worth (1981:78) argues that one must always be aware of the way subjects are chosen and that the viewfinder only presents a slice of the data. The film data must also be placed in the context of the whole. The videos were incorporated in this study primarily to aid in the interpretation of data. It was anticipated that the transfer of archival materials to video would help to show the character of prior life in St. Petersburg. Secondly, the goal was to contribute to the development of archival resources concerning African American culture. For example, recording old photographs of homes in the Gas Plant and Methodist Town provided another means of assessing the underlying assumptions that influenced the “development” of these neighborhoods. This medium facilitated a political postmortem of destroyed African American communities in St Petersburg. Therefore, the videotapes were incorporated to visually illumine my understanding of the social ecology of St. Petersburg during the past 70 years.
To ensure that these films portray the world view of African Americans, all of the tapes remain unedited with exception of three twenty-minute productions. The edited tapes show a Palm Sunday tea of a men’s club, a Christmas meeting of a blind association and the Sixty-Second anniversary of Happy Workers’ Day Care. These tapes were produced to tell the story of the events without narration, but requests for copies of them required their refinement.
Sampling and Selection of Informants
This research involved two types of participants who served in different roles. The personal narratives of 28 elderly and 4 middle aged African American residents supplied information and interpretive data on earlier decades in the Southside. The other group was comprised of middle and high school students who were intended as recipients of the knowledge that had been acquired from the older members of the community.
Research concerning African Americans frequently represent them as monolithic, poor, and dysfunctional. Stereotypical judgements are made frequently about an entire population (Stack 1975; Harris 1979:61). African Americans may be cut from the same fabric of existence, but they shape their experiences into a multiplicity of life models. Therefore, a major goal of this sample was to represent the heterogeneous nature of African Americans.
To achieve this task, I interviewed people of various backgrounds. The sample included literate and illiterate, middle and lower class, leaders and followers, and religious and non religious people. Denzin (1970:239) argues that no two lives are alike; lawful determinism need not be based upon frequency of occurrence in a multitudes of cases but may apply to a single life. He argues that each personality interprets universal factors in his or her life differently. For example, the thread of racism may affect the entire African American population. However, this phenomenon may create one as conservative as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and another person as liberal as the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Yet their experiences as African Americans are similarly derived. Margaret Mead (quoted in Langness and Frank 1981:53) asserts, that any member of a group, provided that his /her position within in that group and individual characteristics are properly specified, is a perfect sample of the group- wide pattern on which he/she is acting as an informant. Individual life stories show how they adhere or deviate from the normative patterns of a group.
A snowball method was used to select the adult informants. This approach, in which one interviewee recommends the next interviewee, has been considered an appropriate method for conducting oral history projects (Martin 1987:7). This sampling method was used to locate the 32 adult informants whom I interviewed for this project. Contacts with informants were initiated by first interviewing friends, community activists and colleagues who worked with older African Americans. These individuals were asked to suggest elder African Americans who had lived in the community for at least 20 years, who personified the ethnic beliefs and values of their community and could tell the history of African Americans in St. Petersburg.
There are potential limitations associated with the snowball method. Such a technique may limit the sample to one class of people (Martin 1987:7-8). An explicit request for diverse participants was adopted to help overcome this barrier; contacts of various classes, perspectives and backgrounds were solicited. The ability to insure this diversity was enhanced by my own knowledge of the African American community in St. Petersburg.
Despite the above discussed drawbacks, snowball methods may be used to introduce the researcher and to gain acceptance by the community. A referral generated by trusted friends and associates fosters greater trust and cooperation on the part of the interviewees. Such a method enables a researcher to be positively regarded in a community that is suspicious of academic studies. The fact that I am an African American was also helpful in alleviating skepticism.
There are few labels which can be used to characterize the 32 informants whose perspectives shaped the core of this dissertation. Their lives reflect diverse experiences. Seventeen (53%) informants are men, 15 (47%) are women. Many of the informants migrated from other areas. Eight (25%) relocated from Georgia and 7 (21%) moved from other places in Florida. Three of the seven (9.3%) Floridians were from Alachua county. Three (9.3%) other persons were born in Chicago, South Carolina, and Alabama. Seventeen of the informants were raised in rural communities. The majority of the informants are religious. Fifteen (47%) are Baptists and three (9.3%) are Methodists. Additionally, one Catholic, one Lutheran, two Seven Day Adventists, two Pentecostalists and two Bahais comprised the sample. Four of the informants are not affiliated with a religious organization.
Some informants were the first African Americans to break the color barriers in various roles and occupations. Among these informants were the “first” bus driver, the “first” retail clerk in an exclusive clothing store, the “first” life guard, the “first” nurse supervisor, and the”first” teacher supervisor. The informants have a wide range of educational experiences. While six attended only grade school, five achieved masters degrees, and two were awarded doctorates. Eleven graduated from high school and another four advanced to trade school. Although 12 (37.5%) of the 32 informants attended college. The majority of the other interviewees were manual laborers. Those informants without college degrees were occupationally diverse. They were bus drivers, sanitation workers, barbers, beauticians, retail clerks, migrant laborers, hot dog and vegetable vendors and trained chefs. Two informants with no formal schooling, owned businesses and consider themselves successful self-made individuals.
Almost universally, the informants had been married; only two (6.2%) were single. Three (9.3%) had legally dissolved their marriages, and 11 (34.3%) had lost their partners through death. The average age in the sample was 61 years. However, five people were between the ages of 37 and 48 years.
An interview is a method of data collection that embodies a synergistic process. This interactive phenomenon is formed not only by the individuals present, but also is shaped by the intended audiences (Angrosino 1989b). Therefore, questions and answers reflect the roles and statuses of the interviewer and the respondents within their larger worlds (Denzin 1891). Questions and answers concerning the changing environment in St. Petersburg and the lives of African Americans within this city are only meaningful when placed in this context. For example, some questions were answered more readily because the interviewer shared a common culture with the respondents. Still other questions were not answered because of the vulnerable positions of African Americans in St. Petersburg. Some informants perceived that frank discussions about racist and economic exploitative conditions could jeopardize their jobs and other opportunities. Examples of African Americans who were either injured or murdered for stepping over the prescribed racial boundaries remain real to some informants. They knew suspects who were never tried but still lived in the area. Therefore, unanswered questions were motivated by past experiences and persistent fears.
In an effort to understand the dynamics of the political economy of ethnicity among African Americans in St. Petersburg, I conducted in-depth interviews. Although, the format was not rigidly structured, many questions were predetermined. However, during the interviewing period some of these questions were altered by the process. My observations in interviews and other contexts also led to revisions as the interviews proceeded. Issues that were raised during the interviews frequently led to other questions. Occasionally, respondents suggested questions that they felt were important. The flexibility of the biographical method allowed the interviews to be a dynamic and evolving process.
The interviews explored key events and conditions that had influenced African Americans in St. Petersburg, such as the Sanitation Strike of 1968 and the construction of the interstate highway in early 1980s. Respondents were questioned concerning several specific events that occurred in St. Petersburg. Interviewees also were questioned about migration, tourism, desegregation of schools, facilities, the destruction of neighborhoods, and the removal of residents. These respondents were asked to discuss these events and how they affected the social, economic and political status of the community. For example, respondents were asked how their own social relationships with their neighbors were affected by construction of the interstate. Essentially, the interview process examined what it has meant historically to be African American in St. Petersburg.
When studying key events, conditions that created situations should be examined. Therefore, the interview process sought to understand the motivations and assumptions that led to various incidents, and searched for explanations for the circumstances that existed during segregation, desegregation and post- desegregation. Additionally, informants were asked to assess which values contributed to the current problems in the African American community. These types of questions were posed to determine how social structures support and invent the ideologies that foster the political economy of the community. W. Lloyd Warner (1953 quoted in Perrin 1988) argues that social relations consist of evaluated beliefs and values and are expressed in human conduct.
A salient factor in understanding ethnicity is an examination of the collective activity of an ethnic group. The interviewing process explored activities driven by a common bond and the world view shared among African Americans. The development of institutions, organizations, and political movements were reviewed with informants. These journeys into past memories focused on the generalized assumption of an ancestral union. With the exception of three respondents, interviews were conducted in their homes. The average respondent was interviewed for approximately 5 hours. Each person was interviewed a minimum of three hours. Conflicting schedules sometimes limited the time of the interviews.
With the permission of the respondents, the majority of the interviews were taped on audio cassettes. A few respondents did not permit their interviews to be taped. Two informants who were rather outspoken and knowledgeable raised concerns about data being taped. They considered that such documentation could be used later against the African American community. I understood their rationales. These men were raised during a period when African American males were mistreated for “saying the wrong thing.” Despite the reality of their fears, the majority of respondents perceived the tapes as useful tools for teaching their grandchildren and other children about the past.
Oral life history methods are used to reconstruct a description of past events. However, participant observations provide researchers opportunities to understand past events in the context of current day to day experiences. It is a field strategy that simultaneously combines document analysis, respondent and informant interviews, direct participation, observation and introspection (Denzin 1970:186). This methodology allowed me to understand and interpret more effectively the world view of African Americans in St. Petersburg.
During the internship, I observed several events and activities that occurred at the Enoch Davis Center and in the wider community. Such observations included events that commemorated the past, performances that celebrated community ties, meetings that sustained and bonded community members and sessions that sought to solve community problems and reconnect African Americans. For example, I attended a candlelight vigil that honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and Odd Brothers Palm Sunday memorial service that remembered deceased club members and their widows. During this period, I also observed the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) publicly accuse the St. Petersburg police of brutalizing an African American family. Gibbs High school alumni club members also met to encourage their fellow cohorts to continue to support the school in order to preserve its African American heritage.
Not all my observations involved attending structured activities. Just being at the Davis Center provided further insights into the daily lives of African Americans. I saw and spoke with children who came to the library after school. I observed the elder women and men who prayed, sang, and lunched together everyday. I listened to the conversations of the social workers who worked in the community center and explored ways to change conditions. These observations helped me to place the ethnicity of African Americans in the context of their current cultural milieu.
Being an African American and a long term resident in the Southside community, the role of participant observer was a twin endeavor. From one perspective, l was an anthropologist looking at my culture, from the other dimension, I was an African American looking at an anthropologist looking at me. This data collection and the ultimate analysis of the process are reflected in my bilateral roles. This issue will be further discussed in the chapter on being “a native anthropologist.”
An understanding of the historical culture of African Americans not only requires oral accounts but also the incorporation of written records (Trigger 1982; Euler 1972). Thus, a major component of the data collection for this dissertation included secondary and primary records.
I used city directories, newspaper articles, official memoranda concerning Laurel Park (a housing complex from which residents were removed while internship was in process), census data, city council reports dating from 1974 to 1990, and redevelopment plans for the Jamestown and Gas Plant areas. A few books, scholarly articles, and television news archives from WTSP (Channel 10) revealed other dimensions of the history of African Americans in St. Petersburg. Among the books reviewed were those that were written by Arsenault (1988) and Vesperi (1985), and Reverend Enoch Davis’ (name sake of the center) On The Bethel Trail, (1979). Davis chronicled the major events that influenced the lives of African Americans in St. Petersburg, Florida and the United States. He discussed such issues as the 1914 Iynching of an African American in St. Petersburg, the return of African Americans to the Democratic party, the church, and general social problems. These sources supplemented the oral data.
Methods of Engaging Youths
“History is the scaffold upon which personal and group identities are constructed” (Bennett 1972:194). As a source of power and identity, this knowledge is used to assign roles, direct future action and provide models to which growth can aspire (Bennett 1972). Guided by these assumptions, the aim of this project was to incorporate African American students in gathering and learning directly the cultural heritage of their community. I anticipated that youths informed of their history would be better able to achieve personal efficacy and a sense of their own identity.
The students were recruited from local high schools, Black Culture clubs, social agencies, and recreational centers to participate in educational discussions and to assist in gathering data concerning the local history of African Americans in St. Petersburg. Recruitment was directed towards youths between ages of 11 and 17 years. The intent was to include somewhat older children who required less supervision. Group attendance was open and voluntary, but students had to register with their parents’ permission. Pupils were invited to attend a four week session for 2 hours on Thursday afternoons and 3 hours on Saturday mornings. The numbers of adolescents who participated each session were inconsistent. Some days as many as 17 attended, while other times only 4 students came to the sessions.
In the sessions students were presented opportunities to assess critically the history and world view of African Americans in St. Petersburg from the 1920s to 1990. This program was named “Project La Churasano: Remembering the Past to Control the Future.” (La Churasano means cultural heritage in the Mandinka language.) Dobyos (1978:109-115) argues, that the heavy hand of the past rests upon present populations. He also asserts that people can ill afford to ignore an ethnohistorical reality and base decisions upon abbreviated assessments.
Sessions consisted of discussions with community persons, field trips, videotaping, informal interviews with community persons and some archival research. Such topics as migration, the Sanitation Strike, changing hair styles, ethnic entrepreneurs, and neighborhood displacement were discussed. To place the past in the context of the present, students were taken on field trips to community landmarks and they were given opportunities to interview older community members about their lives and the implications for informing today’s youngsters. Archival data such as street directories, and the “Eyes on the Prize” series were also used to assist youngsters in understanding the cultural context of their present status. Efforts were made to teach students that history is a living phenomenon, relevant to their own lives.
Originally, the project was conceptualized to have students assist throughout the data collection. However, time and resource constraints altered the project. Instead, two four-week sessions on change and continuity affecting the lives of African Americans in St. Petersburg were offered to African American students. Opportunities were created within this format for students to assist in some aspects of the data collection. For example, on one field trip they conducted informal interviews with shop owners in the Gas Plant area about the impact that destruction of Laurel Park and the construction of the Suncoast Dome had on their businesses. Primarily, students were presented the history of their community.
Several underlying assumptions guided this project. It was assumed that the enculturation of African American children concerning their cultural heritage would help them to understand their roles as African Americans. Also, it was reasoned that an understanding of their ethnicity would reinforce their sense of belonging, stimulate them to preserve their cultural heritage and choose positive life styles. Finally, it was believed that this program would fill a void created by an educational system that does not support the cultural identity of African American children. Overall, this project was a process of social reconstruction guided by the critical analyses of the historical forces that have influenced the lives of African Americans.
The collection of oral and written data concerning African Americans in St. Petersburg, and the integration of youths in the process, were directed by an operational definition of ethnicity and political economy. Use of these concepts required an examination of the historical evidence of collective behaviors of African Americans that have been molded by political and economic circumstances. Since ethnicity is internally and externally ascribed, these data represent an exploration of the self perceptions of African Americans and their externally determined status in St. Petersburg. This dissertation is built upon an understanding of the historical nature of culture and cultural processes of African Americans in St. Petersburg.
Analysis of Data
There are few models of life histories which are used to explain the political economy of ethnicity. In fact, the analytical aspect of life histories is the least developed component of the life history research (Langness and Franke 1981:63). Although this methodology is used to illustrate cultural viewpoints, and portray cultures and cultural change, interpretations are more self-reflective, phenomenological and psychological
(Langness and Franke 1981 :63). Generally, life histories represent a microanalysis of individual lives.
Despite the existing analytical trend in life history research, it is quite appropriate to expand its use to exemplify the fusion of politics, economics, and societal aspects of life. C. Wright Mills (1977:12 quoted in Langness and Franke 1981:27), argues that ‘neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without an understanding of both…. By the fact of his (sic) living, an individual contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of society and its historical push and shove.’ This dialectical tension between the individual and the society defines the core concept of political economy and ethnicity — the relations of production.
Sherman (1987:43), a Marxist inspired political economist hypothesizes that the relations of production are the interconnections between groups of human beings in the process of creating goods and services. He perceives society as an arena of fundamental conflicts that generate historical developments. Marxists contend that in each society there is a major exploiting class (which also rules politically) and a major exploited class (which is also politically subordinated) (Sherman 1987:41). These major assumptions of political economy seem to characterize the relationship between African Americans and the mainstream American society. From the initial enslavement of African Americans until now, their existence in the United States has represented a cultural dissension. The juxtaposition of the African American struggle for emancipation, survival and economic betterment in St. Petersburg against the status quo social and economic structures motivated a dialectical analysis of this research.
This model is influenced primarily by Sherman’s (1987) frameworks of social analysis. He posits that one may understand a phenomenon by examining the interconnection of ideas and institutions of a social structure and the relations and forces of production (Sherman 1987:44). Sherman (1987:13-14) suggests that these factors may be further delineated by exploring forces of production, change, unity and conflict, and cultural hegemony.
In an effort to show how historical materialism influenced African American ethnicity, subsequent intergenerational relations, and the present youth problems, data analysis included a two step process. Observations and taped interviews were transcribed and thematically coded. Economic information, demographic statistics and news reports also were categorized. The contents of data were organized by topics as outlined below.
Forces of Production
Marx (1973) argues that the starting point in an analysis of political economy should be the population. He proposes that their general relation with labor demand and the world markets should be clarified (Marx 1973:132). I developed a profile of the informants and their occupational careers. By analyzing census data and economic development reports, I charted the average income, education and the types of jobs African Americans in St. Petersburg have held. National economic trends and events documented by newspaper articles and historical materials were compared to the local economic conditions in St. Petersburg. Expansions and retractions of businesses and shifts also were compared and their impact were examined.
Change is a persistent force in political economies. Marx hypothesizes that production and other forces alter societies. He proposes that innovations in religious, artistic, political and legal views may be caused by economic developments (Arthur 1973: 38). For example, increases in incomes and job status may modify one’s involvement in church activities. Family relations may also be affected by crises and economic turning points. Institutional and structural changes within the African American community and the motives for their transformation were studied. The causes and the consequences of the evolution of beliefs and values are highlighted also in the data.
Unity and Conflict
There are always opposing forces in a capitalist political economy argues Sherman (1987:19). Tensions between classes, owners and workers, rulers and followers characterize Western economies. Disharmonies continually exist as groups seek their rights and self-determination. Inequalities, discrimination, racism and sexism are byproducts of this system (Sherman 1987:114-121). Therefore, my interpretations concern the stresses between African Americans and city officials. I juxtaposed ideas, values, motives of the competing groups to interpret their struggles. Collective actions and conflictual relations with city officials over civil rights, police brutality, and land are illustrated.
States and ruling classes maintain power through ideologies and militaristic mechanisms over the whole society (Gramsci 1973:185). Arthur (1973) explains Marx’s writings and outline three ways that hegemony could be proven in a society. He proposes that (1.) one must examine the ideas of the rulers and determine the real reasons for their existence; (2.) one must prove how current ideas are connected to past ideologies; and (3.) how these concepts are materialized and manifested in self- consciousness. Wolf (1982:188) argues that ideologies codify existence, permeate an entire cultural universe and become a design for living. Gramsci (1973:185) believes that schools and intellectuals are major sources of the ideas that foster the domination of the ruling class.
In my analysis of this concept, I did three things. First, I categorized the ideas that concerned the domination of African Americans in St. Petersburg. Second, I determined the source of these concepts. For example, I traced the history of Gas Plant redevelopment to assess the origin of this plan. Third, I examined the youths’ contacts with the school system, religious organizations, and media to explain the extent that their self-consciousness had been influenced by these relationships. I explored the tensions embodied in the educational hegemony of African American children by public schools and their ethnic enculturation.
A search for recurrent themes also characterized this analysis. Persistent views indicated a shared value system. For instance, the repeated discussion about the lack of prayer in the schools as a contributor to youth violence showed a cultural expectation.
The loss of black schools and black teachers also revealed a consistent concern. These data were traced to analyze their subsequent impact.
Interpreting the political economy of African American life in St. Petersburg has been like drawing a large sociogram. it required looking at the informants’ lives and connecting their realities not only to the present conditions but also to past circumstances. By a common thread of existence in St. Petersburg, the lives of the interviewees were also connected to each others’. Additionally, ideological conflicts over work, progress, schooling, and economic transformation were linked and compared to changing circumstances, adaptations of previous generations and local and national events. Finally, a synthesis of these relationships were made to determine how they molded the African American perspective on the world.
A HISTORICAL LEGACY OF SUNSHINE AND RACE
“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor — bare. But all the time l ‘se been a-climbin’ on,” a mother explains to her son in one of Langston Hughes’ poem (Hughes 1987:187). This mother’s lament may be a symbol of the legacy of African Americans in St. Petersburg.
Life for African Americans in St. Petersburg has been marked with travail. From the 1880s, when they first arrived, until today, they have been treated as second- class citizens. Their marginal position in the society has been abetted by institutionalized racism. Apart from racism, their treatment has been influenced by an assumption that their presence adversely affects tourism. The city council incorporated such beliefs into laws, restricted African Americans to certain neighborhoods and forbade them from using many municipal facilities. Segregation became a gauche marketing strategy in the post-civil rights era, and, it was, in any case, legally impossible for city council to restrict African Americans to separate districts. As a modern “sunbelt city,” the city designated some African American neighborhoods as blighted slums, removed the residents, and demolished their homes, churches, and businesses. The juxtaposition of blackness in the lives of African Americans in St. Petersburg is a collective and personal story about racial conflict.
Racism led African descendants in St. Petersburg to create insular communities and to fight for their proprietary rights. They reinforced their bonds with each other through spiritual, financial, social and educational institutions. These structures gave them refuge and dignity and allowed them to endure the humiliation of segregation. Strengthened by the protest movement of the Sixties, they challenged the city and crossed racial barriers. Although integration seemed to offer a new dawn, an essential institutional relationship was sacrificed.
African Americans lost control of their schools and the education of their children. Their children became minorities in predominant white institutions and schools became hostile environments for many. The achievements of African American students are abysmal when compared to the accomplished of their predecessors who attended segregated schools. This situation recently led a task- force of community leaders to recommend that Gibbs High establish an Afrocentric curriculum primarily for African American youths. Derrick Bell (1991:9) aptly describes the paradox of desegregation for African Americans, “we have attained all the rights we sought in law and gained none of the resources we need in life. Like the crusaders of old, we sought the holy grail of “equal opportunity” and having gained it in court decisions and civil statutes, find it transformed from the long-sought guarantee of racial equality into one more device the society can use to perpetuate the racial status quo.” Despite grave and disappointing circumstances, African Americans continue to seek greater integration of their epistemology into the mainstream curriculum of Pinellas county’s school system. They seek to ensure their children a more secure legacy firmly supported by education.
The goal of this chapter is to show how political, social and economic decisions and racist assumptions structure the lives of African Americans in St. Petersburg. It is a chronicle of the migration of African and white Americans to this coastal city and an exploration of how their divergent and often competing interpretations of the “good life” created a community that is undergirded by racial tensions. To provide context and meaning to the world views of African Americans, their lives are juxtaposed with persistent attempts by the city administration to maintain the hegemony of whites by restricting the rights, opportunities and lives of African Americans. This analysis is a further examination of African Americans’ struggle to extricate themselves from the peonage of sharecropping, servitude, and vociferous racism. It is also a documentation of their fight for their political rights as citizens in a city that has preferred them to be invisible and submissive.
Historical Construction Of Tourism
To appreciate African American migration to St. Petersburg, it is necessary to understand the development of tourism. In 1885, W. C. Van gibber, a Baltimore physician, proclaimed that Pinellas Point was the healthiest spot on earth (Vesper) 1985:35). At the American Medical Association meeting in New Orleans, he posited that this area was an ideal location to maximize health and to ensure longevity (Arsenault 1988:52). The beach was broad and graceful, stretching for many miles, the air was healthy and the average winter temperature was 72 degrees, explained Van Bibber (Arsenault 1988:53). He proposed that a “health city” be built on the 160,000 acres of primal tropical forest.
His proclamation led to the transformation of this palmetto swamp land into a leisure community for whites (Arsenault 1988:53). Land speculators and wealthy financiers who envisioned millions of tourists enjoying the climate began to develop the area. New England property owners provided the necessary cash to build the Orange Belt Railway. Previously, St. Petersburg was only accessible by boat. This rail system placed St. Petersburg in reach of so many tourists that tourism became its primary industry. By 1910, Lew Brown, editor of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent dubbed this Gulf coast town, the “Sunshine City.”
It became a tourist mecca. “The first string of tourist Pullmans from New York rolled into St. Petersburg in 1909” (Arsenault 1988:144). By 1913, two hundred tourists from Indiana and Ohio arrived in the city by train (Arsenault 1988:145). In 1914 and 1925 the St. Louis Browns and the New York Yankees, respectively, made St. Petersburg their winter home (Arsenault 1988:143). Prominent entertainers performed for the huge crowds of tourists at the Coliseum Ballroom (Vesper) 1984:35). However, the tourist industry did not really boom until after World War I, when St. Petersburg became accessible by automobile.
Tourism became a billion dollar industry in St. Petersburg. By 1920, tourists who could only afford tents on campgrounds joined the upper middleclass winter tourists who were began visiting a decade earlier. Between 1923 and 1926, ten large hotels were built (Arsenault 1988:261). The Depression slowed tourism during the first half of the 1930s. However, by 1935 tourism began to rebound. In 1939, 68,300 tourists visited St. Petersburg. Just a year later that number had risen to 77,777. During 1987 more than 3.6 million tourists visited St. Petersburg and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce 1989). Tourism increased the economy of the county by $1.8 billion in 1989. It continues to be a major source of income for the economy.
St. Petersburg is dependent on tourism, suburbanism and the related services (Vesper) 1985:36). It lacks a commercially navigable harbor and natural resources that could help the city to become a major center of trade and commerce. City officials and business persons have consistently set a high priority on ensuring that the tourist economy is protected and enhanced. Tourism as a major industry in St. Petersburg created a paradoxical relationship between city officials and African Americans. City official perceived African Americans as essential cheap labor for tourism. They were hired to lay rails, pave the streets, clean hotels, wait tables and carry luggage. Arsenault (1988:124) who chronicled the history of St. Petersburg from 1888 to 1950, writes, “without the blood, sweat, and tears expended by people of color, St. Petersburg would not have been an up-and-coming city that attracted tourists.” However, outside of their ascribed roles and without their uniforms, African Americans were considered a liability and a risk to tourism. City officials parlayed their fears into laws that segregated African Americans from the rest of the community.
I Hear There Is A Boom In St. Petersburg
Since the 1800s, substantial numbers of African Americans have settled and raised families in St. Petersburg. Between 1910 and 1990 their population increased from 1,095 to 47,726. Presently, African Americans comprise 20% of the population. Although they have comprised less than quarter of the population since the 1920s, their percentage of the population has grown steadily. Between 1920 and 1940, the number of African Americans in St. Petersburg increased from 2,394 to 11,980. This rise in population was attributed to the booming tourist job market. Although, tourism slowed between 1950s and 1960s, African American population still grew. City demographers argued that this growth was natural and caused by reproduction. The city planners reasoned that without jobs, conditions were too harsh for Negroes to either move to, retire or vacation in St. Petersburg. These officials explained that Negroes could not enjoy the beaches and other recreational facilities. Since desegregation of the city in the 1970s, more African Americans have moved to St. Petersburg. This phenomenon has been created by an increased number of professional African Americans who migrated from northern cities to St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg Times 3.24.91). African Americans have also become a larger percentage of the population of St. Petersburg because fewer Whites moved to St. Petersburg during the past decade. Between 1980 and 1990, the white population dropped by approximately 17, 000 (4.6% decline). Many whites who migrated to the area moved to the suburbs north of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg Times 3.24.93). Despite conditions, numerous of African Americans have made St. Petersburg their residence. (See table 1).
The idea of making a better living motivated many African Americans to leave their rural southern communities. Retired nurse Annie Sue Brinson remembers that her mother and aunt left Quitman’ Georgia in March 1923 and came to St. Petersburg to work. They heard that jobs were plentiful. “Women were attracted by the availability of service work in hotels, restaurants and private homes” suggests Vesperi (1985:36). They joined the men who came, built the railroads, stayed and helped erect other infrastructures. Later they were joined by other men who either found jobs as garbage collectors, golf caddies, chauffeurs and laborers or became entrepreneurs. Although there was a high rate of employment during the land booms from the 1 920s to the 1950s in St. Petersburg, a better living was relative compared to their white counterparts. African Americans were restricted to jobs as servants and laborers when working outside of their neighborhoods.
Blackened By The Sun Is O.K.; Blackened By Genes Is A Threat
Although the labor of African Americans had been integral to tourism in St. Petersburg, their presence posed a dilemma for white supremacists (Arsenault 1988:125). City officials and various members of the business community determined that the presence of African Americans as full-fledged citizens would lessen the city’s ability to attract investors and tourists. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the question was how to exploit the labor of African Americans without granting them full citizenship in a post slave society (Arsenault 1988:25). The problem was resolved by taking extreme measures. The city’s efforts included denying the presence of African Americans, restricting their movements, segregating services, and Iynching black males.
As tourism grew, business people became more concerned about how their transplanted northern customers perceived Negroes. Paul Barco, a trained historian, born in St. Petersburg in 1916 remembers hearing his father discuss the erection of colored and white only sections during the 1920s. He recalls that his father customarily went to a white dentist in town. One day his father visited his dentist and was informed that he had to wait until the doctor could build a separate waiting room for colored people. The dentist suggested that things were changing and the northerners did not want to see colored people when they came for treatment. To safeguard their tourist economy, city officials and businesses denied the significant presence of African Americans in the city. During the 1920s, the city’s promotional leaflets implied that the African Americans population was rather small. City planner, Jim Nolan insisted that St. Petersburg did not have a particularly large colored population, but like all southern cities it had its colored section (Arsenault 1988:124). The St. Petersburg Times reinforced this denial by publishing the news of Negroes for twenty-eight years, from 1939 to 1967, as a separate page that its white subscribers never saw.
To further conceal African Americans from the tourists, the city council legislated a series of ordinances that strictly interpreted and defined the role and place of African Americans in St. Petersburg. In 1931 Subsection (ff) of Section 3 of the city charter established “separate residential limits or districts for white and negro [sic] residents.” Essentially, this act restricted 7,393 African Americans (18% of the city’s population) to 2 percent of the land in St. Petersburg, says Darryl Paulson, a historian at the University of South Florida. After World War II, in 1946, the St. Petersburg city council decided to create a law that would keep Negroes out of the domains of whites. Therefore, the body determined “for the purpose of promoting the peace and good order of the city,” it was unlawful to sell, serve, or allow to be served “any colored person in a place of business maintained for the white race” (Code 1946, Chapter 18, Section 19). Since the hotels, restaurants, pools and other facilities were geared to whites, this rule effectively banned African Americans from downtown except when working.
Even during the 1950s, the city sought to contain the African American community. When African American neighborhoods expanded beyond previously prescribed boundaries, the city council appointed a committee of blacks and whites to determine new boundary lines for the African American settlement (Davis 1979:24). This committee essentially agreed to keep the existing boundaries and that African Americans would not move south of Fifteenth Avenue between Twenty-Second Street and Thirty-Fourth Streets in order to maintain segregated zones. (See map, figure 1.) During this period, the 14,000 African Americans comprised 14.5 percent of the population in St. Petersburg. However, they lived within a perimeter of 1.12 square miles on 712 acres of land. The city limits included 52.3 square miles of land or 33,247 acres (St. Petersburg Planning Department 1955:12).
Even before a law existed, city officials sought to deny the legitimacy of African Americans outside of their neighborhoods. In 1935, the city council attempted to prevent African Americans from swimming at South Mole, a downtown beach. Traditionally, African Americans swam at this spot, which was blighted with sludge and discarded freight and passenger cars (Paulson 1982:6). It was the only place in 45 miles of beach that they could swim until Doctor Fred Alsup sued the city in 1958. The courts then forced the integration of the city’s pools. Yet city council argued that if Negro bathing continued at the waterfront, “it would cause trouble” (Paulson 1982:6). Therefore, the city proposed several alternative sites for African Americans to swim. However, the inability of the white community to reach a consensus and the protests of African Americans allowed them to continue swimming at South Mole. Nevertheless, for more than twenty years, City Council and white community organizations such as the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association persistently demanded that African Americans find another place to enjoy the waterfront.
The City of St. Petersburg did not deny that it was in the business of tourism. In 1955, shortly after the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, the City of St. Petersburg acknowledged its proprietary role in managing tourist attractions and justified its discrimination against African Americans. When Alsup, an African American sued for entrance to the Spa Pool and Beach, the city argued in Federal District court that it segregated its facilities “for the purpose of efficiently carrying on business” (Paulson 1982:10). St. Petersburg further posited that if Spa Pool and Beach were integrated it would lose money and be forced to close.
Although the city lost that court battle on April 1, 1957, it refused to integrate the pool. Instead the pool was closed. From August 21, 1955 until January 6, 1959, Spa Pool and Beach patrons were locked out four times. Each incident was in reaction to African Americans’ attempt to swim there. Even when the pool was eventually re- opened, it was because businesses were losing profits rather than due to a concern for the rights of African Americans. The Chamber of Commerce pressured the city and complained that businesses lost downtown tourist revenue while the pool was closed (Paulson 1982:16). These demands led the city council to vote to re-open the facilities (Paulson 1982:16).
The 1914 Iynching of John Evans suggests that the city leaders were also willing to fatally harm African Americans who they perceived threatened the development of tourism. Jon Wilson (1983:4-16) writes in “Days of Fear: A Lynching in St. Petersburg,” a fear of losing profits from tourists and investments from wealthy northeastern industrialists led to the Iynching of Evans (Wilson 1983:4-16). Ed Sherman was murdered and his wife was assaulted allegedly by two Negro males. Evans and Ebenezer Tobin were targeted as the criminals. Both men had been employed by Sherman. However, a few months before Sherman’s murder, Evans terminated his services and began working for another employer. A dispute had led him to seek other employment. City officials and tourism boosters wanted to send a message to the town’s financial backers in Philadelphia and other parts of northeast that investing in St. Petersburg was not risky. They brought Evans to Mrs. Sherman’s bedside to determine if he was the criminal. Sherman’s wife denied that he attacked her and Evans asserted his innocence. Nevertheless, fifteen of the city’s wealthiest citizens found Evans guilty in a private meeting prior to Iynching him (Wilson 1983:23). He was taken from the jail, shot, mostly by women and children, and hanged at the corner of Second Avenue South and Ninth Street near Cooper’s Quarters, a predominantly African American settlement.
“Swaying ever so slightly in the soft, Florida night ” (Italics added) is how Luther Atkins, a member of the Iynch mob described the blasted corpse of Evans (Wilson 1983:17). Such description poignantly infers that only silenced Negroes were compatible with the tropical life styles of Florida. The coroner concluded that Evans had been killed byunknown persons.
Without Political Rights
Until 1969, African Americans were politically disfranchised and had little power to affect the city’s discriminatory policies. Arbitrarily their right to vote was denied at various times. In 1913, an all-white primary was held, although 500 African Americans were registered voters. Leaders of the Democratic party and Lew Brown, editor of the St. Petersburg Independent, argued that the white primary was necessary ‘in order to maintain control of city affairs in the hands of white people’ (Arsenault 1988:128). In 1921, they were not permitted to go to the polls (Arsenault 1988:194). Whites were fearful that significant numbers of Negroes would re-elect Noel Mitchell, who had been forced from office. In 1927, another white primary election was held for judges and clerks. Even when St. Petersburg was incorporated and the first election was held in 1892, African Americans were not even informed of the vote. It was not until 1946, two years after the United States Supreme Court ruled that all-white primaries were unconstitutional that St. Petersburg opened all elections to African Americans (Arsenault 1988:305). Until 1969, the districts were drawn so that it was impossible for African Americans to elect a representative from their community. For the first one hundred years, African Americans resided in the city, they did not have a real voice in the electoral process.
There Is A Balm In Gilead
Consequently, these legal and extralegal measures led African Americans to live in segregated enclaves known as Coopers Quarters, Gas Plant, the Country/Jordan Park, Methodist Town, Pepper Town and Little Egypt. Except for Methodist Town all of these subcommunities were located south of the railroad tracks and west of Ninth Street, South. Methodist Town was north of Central Avenue. Until the 1970s, without distinction of status every Negro lived in certain neighborhoods. Even professional baseball players and entertainers who came to entertain the white tourists had to find rooms in the African American community.
Vanessa Williams (1990) describes her experience of being raised in the Gas Plant neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s. This journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that although the Gas Plant was fraught with fistfights, shootings, stabbings, alcoholism, and too many school-aged parents, it was a vibrant community.
Retired schoolteachers would call out to us as we walked to and from school, encouraging us to get good grades and to ‘Get on home to your mama, now!’ Mr. Welch, whose sons included a preacher, teacher, and a tax accountant would wave at us from his rocking chair on the porch of his firewood business. Another neighborhood character was Miss Callie, an eccentric old woman whose house was filled with toys and games. She would often invite us over for tea parties during which she’d teach us to be ‘proper ladies.’ Neighbors pitched in to feed and bathe the children of single mothers who got sick; the able- bodied cleaned white people’s houses and dug ditches during the week, did marketing on Saturday and went to church on Sunday; and my mother, grew collard greens and roses in our narrow, sandy back yard.
Williams (1990) concludes that although the city considered her neighborhood to be distressed, to her, it was a place with a soul. Arsenault (1988:126) suggests that prior to 1950, “black St. Petersburg was not a community of despair.”
Even its poorest citizens were frequently sustained by strong kinship networks and a vital Afro-American folk culture based on religion and communal values. Single-parent household were relatively rare, and local blacks did not have to look outside of their community to find inspiring role models or other sources of individual dignity and self esteem.
Churches helped to tie the African American community together. They were sources of networks and gave relocatees a sense of belonging. Through the church, newcomers were told of job openings and offered places to live, suggests Willie Felton, a college administrator and member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church. Often the sanctuary would be the first place one would go after arriving in town. Reverend J. L. Fennel, recalls that the first Sunday after he came to St. Petersburg he joined New Hope Baptist Church. Perkins Shelton remembers that when he moved to St. Petersburg in 1971, almost invariably, which church he attended was the first question others asked him. Hence, those who joined the church were integrated into the African American community. The church was so essential to African American life that it was the first institution that they established in St. Petersburg. In 1894, Reverend J. S. Braswell with two of his younger church brothers established Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Methodist Town. By 1920, there were seven major congregations and several smaller fellowships (Arsenault 1988:127). Repeatedly, such collective efforts were made to create religious structures. By the middle of this century, committed individuals had organized fellowships that ranged from Presbyterian to Holiness.
The church not only served the spiritual needs of African Americans. It became a platform for ministers to confront social inequalities. Being a pastor authorized African American preachers to cross boundaries that other African Americans could not traverse without retribution. Parsons protected by the collar of Christianity, challenged city policies and spoke out against racial discrimination. In 1938, when principal Noah Griffin, principal of Gibbs High School was beaten by the police, Reverend Doctor John Wesley Carter, a pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church addressed the City Council. He reminded the members to respect Negroes and properly serve them (Arsenault 1988:269). While talking to this body, he admonished them to extend African Americans the right to vote, hire black policemen and remove white businesses from Negro areas just as they had removed Negroes from white areas. (Arsenault 1988:269; Davis 1979:43). He reminded both parishioners and the city council of the moral bankruptcy of racial discrimination (Arsenault 1988:269; Davis 1979:43). Reverend Enoch Davis also became an activist pastor. He and Reverend Carter often attended trials to ensure that black defendants were treated fairly by the justice system (Davis 1979:43). In these ways, the community used the church and its leaders to oppose racial discrimination.
There Is Dignity In My Home
Outside of the community, African Americans were subjected to a racially subordinate status. However, in their home territory, they could be members of high society groups. Even maids and porters could trade their uniforms for tuxedos and gowns and attend debutante and charity balls. Character, style and integrity were the most important criteria. Mary McRae, a socialite, describes the dances in this manner, “Whenever we had dances, they were formal. When you arrived, if you were not formal down to your shoes, you were not allowed to enter. We tried to set the best standards.”
The Manhattan Casino, a thriving entertainment and business complex from the 1 920s to the 1 960s was “the place to be and to be seen” explains Monty Campbell, a retired school social worker. It was a venue for Count Basie, Jelly Roll Morton, Mills Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Ike and Tina Turner, Fats Domino, Ink Spots and many others. Coronation and charity balls and Gibbs’ high school proms were held at the Manhattan. It was known as “the home of happy feet” in the African American community.
Social clubs were also a core of African American life during segregation. Newspaper articles highlighted the activities of diverse associations. Bid Whist card parties, teas, balls, plays and cabaret were among those organized gatherings. Various reasons motivated the founding of these associations. For example, the Odd Brothers, a Christian club for men, was founded in 1929 to reinforce and support a Christian lifestyle. In 1941 Sightless Christian Association was incorporated to offer emotional comfort and companionship to those who are visually challenged. The City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs were established to improve the status of women and their image in the white world. The Ambassadors club which includes physicians, lawyers and other professional men was organized in 1951 to promote civic, cultural, educational and social activities. Whether stimulated by personal needs or societal conditions, organizations such as the All States Chauffeur’s Club and Piquant Los Jovens Club reinforced relationships among African Americans. Business Is A Key To Freedom Entrepreneurship flourished in these cut-off communities especially from the 1 920s to the 1 960s. By March, 1940, a local chapter of the Negro Business League had already formed (St. Petersburg Times 3.31.40). The Methodist Town Pioneers Reunion committee documents that 68 businesses thrived during the first half of this century in their neighborhood. City directories between 1933 and 1961 also list many diverse businesses in Gas Plant and Jordan Park. Hotels, dry cleaning plants, shoe repair shops, tailoring shops, auto repair shops, Mosely Sylvester’s Informers Publishing Company, ice cream parlors, lawyers, dentists and other services reduced the need for African Americans to go downtown.
The climate for the development of these businesses was sometimes unfriendly. Some owners were harassed by white competitors. For example, Mr. Darcus Fliming [sic] developed a prosperous ice cream company and attracted white and African American customers alike. He was known for the quality of his ice cream. However, his white competitors continually threatened his milk suppliers until he was forced to close his business. Initially, they intimidated local contacts to stop supplying his company. However, Fliming went to Tampa to get milk. Eventually, those individuals informed him that they could no longer take the risk of serving him. Finally, Fliming contacted a supplier in Lakeland, a town more than fifty miles from St. Petersburg. Nevertheless the story was repeated for the third time. Therefore, unable to get the main and essential ingredient for his product, his business declined. Other entrepreneurs were directly attacked. Brodley Bass, a prosperous business man, whose expensive home still stands in the community, was tarred and feathered three times. His only crime was being black and having too much money for his prescribed status. Off the records, informants tell of a contractor who won a construction bid, completed the job, went to pick up his money and was never seen again. Members of the community suspect that he was killed because his success had been considered a threat by some whites. No investigation occurred. Within this context African American businesses grew in St. Petersburg.
CHAPTER 4 CONTINUED. . .
Education: A Common Goal And A Sense Of Being
African Americans could freely pray, dance, socialize, and trade among themselves but they realized that their uplift in the mainstream was through education. Therefore, they sacrificed land and donated their time, energy, and talents to develop their schools. Gibbs High School exemplifies such commitment.
Gibbs High was established out of a societal neglect. There were almost 7,000 African American residents in St. Petersburg in 1927 before the county established the first “Negro” high school. It was originally designed as an elementary school for 350 pupils. Anticipating an influx of new residents, the city had built the structure for its White children. However, in 1925, the land boom of the Twenties went bust. Therefore, the school was not used. It was vacant for a year before African Americans persuaded the county to allow them to use the facility. Former Gibbs students recall that the school was quite inadequate for its 700 high-school students. For the first 25 years, it did not have a football field, a gymnasium, auditorium, library, nor science equipment, and the bathrooms were sized for elementary children. Ernest Fillyau, a photographer and presently a city council member, and Ernest Ponder, a retired history teacher, explain that the African American community worked together to improve the physical plant of the school. Mr. P. P. Perkins, a contractor and teacher at Gibbs asked the community to help build a gymnatorium (auditorium and gymnasium). Individually members of the African American community bought bricks. Collectively, fish fries, basketball games, and singings (concerts) were held to raise funds. These methods were also used to construct a cafeteria and basketball and tennis courts. With Perkins’ guidance, community members, students and teachers labored together to expand the facility.
The community gave the school many gifts. The Non-Pariel, a women’s club organized by Fannye Ponder, a Gibbs teacher and socialite, purchased the first science equipment for the school. For two decades after the school was established, the county did not provide school buses. Therefore, the first three school buses were bought by the African American community. These sacrificial efforts bonded the community to the school.
Gibbs, more than any other institution, gave the African American community a sense of belonging. Churches, social clubs and neighborhoods divided people by philosophical interests and geographical boundaries but Gibbs bonded them through a common experience of education, intimacy and collective struggle. Children of maids, lawyers, doctors, porters from different vicinities attended the same school. All who passed through doors of Gibbs became Gladiators.
Segregation allowed African Americans significant control over the curriculum. They were supervised by a Negro superintendent. The teachers and principals primarily determined the curriculum, states Emmanuel Stewart, a retired Gibbs principal.
Race influenced the curriculum. Although Shakespeare, Latin, Spanish, and French were taught, the students also were enculturated in the Negro world view. Bob Perry, a 1963 Gibbs graduate describes the curriculum in this manner, ‘Our teachers made us realize that we were black and we had obstacles to face and we really didn’t have much time to waste’ (White 1980:20). Hence, Gibbs invited prominent individuals to meet with its students. Such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune Cookman College, Langston Hughes, an author and poet, Elston Howard, a New York Yankee, and Reverend J. C. Austin, a Chicago minister, lectured at Gibbs. Not only were students exposed to outstanding individuals, they were provided opportunities to experience the larger world. Ernest Ponder, a retired history teacher, recalls that he and the late Olive B. McLin, chair of the English Department, organized St. Cecile Choir to give students greater exposure and encourage them to go to college. They performed in the Bahamas, Atlanta, Washington, D. C. and many other locations in the South. Ponder posits that the curriculum was designed to demonstrate that Negroes could overcome insurmountable odds and be a credit to their race. Gibbs students were educated to succeed despite racism.
In 1960, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools confirmed that Gibbs had a quality curriculum. It became the first black school in the entire Southeast to be accepted in the association. To be finally accepted in the ranks of white schools meant that Gibbs had transformed that elementary school into a learning center of higher education.
Gibbs High contributed to the emergence of an African American middle class. A 1958 news article reported that several of Gibbs’ students in the class of 1940 had become accomplished musicians. Frank Royal, Ernie Fields, Buddy Johnson and Samuel Robinson joined national bands. A St. Petersburg Times (1980:21) monograph on Blacks in St. Petersburg indicates that some members of the 1966-67 class became doctors, businessmen [sic], ministers, and received post graduate degrees.
Resistance To The Status Quo
During the 1950s, an increased number of middle-class African Americans showed a new militancy toward racial discrimination (Arsenault 1988:266). African American ministers, doctors and other community leaders came together during this period, to persuade, petition, seek legal redress and appeal the courts concerning the needs of their community. Their strategies focused on reforming local racial conditions. They requested the courts to declare white primaries unconstitutional and sued the city to end segregation at the city spa, pool and beach (Davis 1979:69). In 1958, educated leaders encouraged and supported Dr. Ralph Wimbish’s unsuccessful bid for a city council seat. He was the “first in his race” in St. Petersburg for whom a petition had been obtained. Their challenges made it difficult for city officials to pretend that the African American community was a mass of illiterate domestics and laborers (Arsenault 1988:207).
The Second World War also abetted African Americans’ struggle against political domination by whites in St. Petersburg. Nearly two thousand African Americans from St. Petersburg served in the armed forces during the war (Arsenault 1988:302). Informants suggest that fighting against Hitler radicalized their opposition to racial discrimination. Henrietta Davis, a seventy-four year old resident of St. Petersburg explains the transformation, “Those young people had come up. They had been in the service. When they came back here, they weren’t afraid of anything.”
Power Exists In The Masses
The reform and middle-class movement of the 1950s became more combative and diverse during the 1960s and 1970s. Without doubt, local African Americans were strengthened by Civil Rights protests and radicalized by Black Nationalists. Students, church leaders, ordinary citizens and sanitation workers anchored themselves in the political equation of St. Petersburg. They led economic boycotts, sit-ins, strikes, and street uprisings and channeled years of humiliation into coercive a force.
Ostensibly, the dawn of a grassroots movement in St. Petersburg began with the boycott of Webb City. Four years after the Montgomery bus boycott, African Americans decided not to purchase items from Webb City, a complex of stores and a tourist attraction “sprawled over several city blocks” (Arsenault 1988:263). As a forerunner to the shopping mall, James Earl “Doe” Webb sold groceries, hardware, ice cream, and a variety of other products. Although African Americans were permitted to buy groceries and other items, they were prohibited from sitting down and enjoying a meal and a drink in the store’s restaurant. No longer contented with the status quo, on March 2, 1960, the NAACP organized a community-wide boycott against this tourist-minded business.
From that March date until December 6, 1960, African Americans picketed everyday and eventually obliterated a racial barrier. Their cohorts who shopped there were ostracized and ridiculed. Blue Star Taxi drivers refused to serve any African Americans who patronized Webb City during that period. Webb lost most of its business, especially that Christmas season. When Doc Webb sought an anti- picketing injunction in court against the picketers, he claimed a $15,000-a-day loss (Fleming 1973:56). Although he won the injunction, he could not force African Americans to shop there. To prevent further financial loss, his only option was to change the store’s policy toward African Americans.
In 1966, Joseph Waller a.k.a. Yeshitela Omali destroyed a symbol of white supremacy. For years a painting of African Americans in black-face as minstrel characters eating watermelons and entertaining whites on a beach was prominently displayed on a wall of city hall. Each time African Americans transacted business there, they were humiliated by this painting. Many people complained to each other. Reverend Enoch Davis led a delegation that confronted the city council concerning the depiction of African Americans. Rather than remove the painting, council members simply laughed and defended the caricature as “art” (Davis 1979:100). The Council’s refusal led Waller to rip the painting off the wall. He also tore it into pieces to ensure that it would be eternally destroyed.
African Americans in St. Petersburg conclude that a beating and incarceration by police in May, 1964 radicalized Waller. While walking home from his job at the St. Petersburg Times one evening, he was jailed for vagrancy because he did not have any identification papers. A St. Petersburg Times (1.24.65) editorial characterized him as a married college student who was a father, home owner and a respectable law-abiding citizen. The editor wrote, “had he been a white man, Waller probably would not have been arrested.” Reverend Enoch Davis (1979:101) writes, “Because of his arrest and other incidents, Waller developed a disrespect for the power structure, especially the police force.”
Nevertheless, the leadership of St. Petersburg severely punished Waller for his direct action against the cultural hegemony of white Americans in St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Times, his former employer was not forgiving. The newspaper editor characterized his protest as extreme and “hoodlumism” (Hooker 1984: 66). The Times argued that he ‘showed a lack of poise and common sense’ (Hooker 1984: 66). Waller was tried twice for destroying the picture that was allegedly worth $11,000. Initially, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to 320 days in jail by the Municipal Court. He was retried in Circuit Court in May 1967 for grand larceny and sentenced to jail for six-months to five years for the same crime. Such judicial approach raised the issue of double jeopardy.
The United States Supreme Court took the appeal under advisement and ruled in 1971 that no two courts in a state may try a person for the same crime. It annulled Waller’s conviction but did not decide whether he was subjected to double jeopardy in the city and state courts. The case was returned to Circuit Court. For the third time Waller was tried, found guilty and sentenced six months to three years in prison. A lower court justified such harsh action as it suggested that Waller encouraged civil unrest during a tense period.
The leadership that significantly altered the course of history in St. Petersburg, came from the sanitation workers. For 116 days, beginning May 5, 1968, and ending August 29, 1968, 210 African Americans and 1 white sanitation worker struck the city of St. Petersburg for better benefits and pay. Joseph Savage, a Georgia native with a third grade education became the strike- organizer.
Lack of health and retirement benefits and low pay inspired the strike. Many of the workers were literally dying on the job because they could not afford to retire, Savage recounts. The city did not even deduct Social Security taxes and paid the men only sixty-seven cents an hour. Basically, the sanitation workers were tired of being exploited.
The city attempted to intimidate the strikers. Initially, city manager Lynn Andrews refused to negotiate with the workers. He fired each of the striking garbage men and hired strike breakers who were White. Police arrested sanitation workers for disorderly conduct as they led forty marches on city hall and the home of the city manager.
These strikers were not deterred. Energized by a broad range of support received in the community, they continually marched, protested and held community meetings. The strike became a celebrated cause. Cohorts of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., Doctor Ralph Abernathy, A. D. King, and Reverend C. K. Steele, a civil rights leader from Tallahassee visited the sanitation strikers and gave national prominence to their struggle.
Some youths in the community became frustrated with the city’s treatment of African Americans. Concerned about a lack of employment, the displacement of their families by the interstate highway, and the city’s disregard for the striking sanitation workers, they rebelled. Businesses on Sixteenth Street were burned and looted August 15, 1968. Windows were smashed. Equipment was destroyed. Fires were set. Whites were attacked, and bricks were thrown at police. Eighty- three youths were arrested and several people were beaten by the police. A civil emergency was called in a 550- block area of the predominately African American Southside community.
The youth rebellion gave power to the sanitation movement. The Evening Independent wrote on August 16, 1968, “The thing that couldn’t happen in St. Petersburg — a race riot-has happened.” The St. Petersburg Times wrote that St. Petersburg as a “resort city” should have the motivation to find a solution. It warned that racial trouble only brought bad publicity to an area that depended on tourism to survive. The St. Petersburg Times was distressed that headlines around the world read, ‘The resort city of St. Petersburg has experienced looting and fire bombings caused by racial tension.’
The white power structure expressed concern about the increasing influence of the African American youths. James W. Bax, Special Envoy to Governor Claude Kirk concluded that great change was taking place in the leadership structure of the black community. “Power in the black community is gravitating from older professionals to the young power groups and not only Joe Waller’s group,” he reported (Blumenfield 1968:1 B). Two days after the street uprising, a St. Petersburg Times editorial stated, “Re-establishment of order must be followed immediately with the re-establishment of the moderate Negro leadership.” A week after the street disturbances, a compromise between the city and the workers was made and the four-month strike ended. Despite, the strength of the strikers, they were unable to reach a settlement with the city until the youth rebelled in the streets.
To ensure a return to moderate leadership among African Americans and maintain the status quo, St. Petersburg’s Chamber of Commerce, during this 1968 upheaval, organized the Community Alliance. This “bi-racial organization,” initially comprised of 21 white members and 12 black members, attempted to subvert the power of the youths. David Welch, (an accountant), John Hopkins, (a teacher), George Grogan, (owner of the Manhattan Casino), and Doctor Gilbert Leggett, (an activist), and Reverend McNeal Harris were invited to join the Alliance. The chamber’s identification of these African Americans began to influence who spoke for the African American community and determined their needs. The purpose of the Alliance was to establish and maintain communication between “black and white communities.” In this way, the Chamber established the criteria by which African American leadership should be selected.
The manipulation of the voices of the African American community is seen clearly in the garbage settlement. When city manager Lynn Andrews held a press conference to announce that the garbage dispute had been settled, David Welch, co- chairperson of the Community Alliance sat by his side. Welch described himself as coordinator of various groups in the black community, the sanitation workers and the city administration. However, James Sanderlin, the lawyer who represented the sanitation workers said he was very surprised to find out that Welch was also present. >From the onset of the strike, Sanderlin, a young lawyer and a Boston native, guided Joe Savage and the other strikers. Welch’s participation was encouraged only by the city manager.
The sanitation strike became a watershed in the history of St. Petersburg. African Americans directly challenged city hall en masse for the first time. They publicly demanded jobs for their youths and insisted that city hall positions and city council chambers reflect their presence. Their protests led the city to create a voting district comprised primarily of African Americans. As a result, in 1969, Bette Wimbish became the first African American in St. Petersburg to be elected to city council.
Is This Integration? But We Thought. . .
Shortly after the color barrier in city government was crossed, the Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals desegregated the schools. In 1968, the court ruled in New Orleans that all Negro schools in Florida and six other southern states must be integrated or abandoned. In 1971, seventeen years after the Supreme Court decided in Brown versus Topeka Board of Education, Pinellas County complied with this ruling.
This judicial ruling dismantled the African American school. The Pinellas School Board closed all but three of the traditional African American schools. Wildwood Elementary School, although a new facility, became a welfare agency for the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). Jordan Elementary was transformed into a Head Start Center. The School Board even tried to close Gibbs High School. However, protest from the community prevented this action. Nevertheless, integration reduced the number of schools in the African American community.
Although Gibbs remained in the African American community, it was no longer of the community. Gibbs’ leadership and student body became predominantly white. In collaboration with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), district federal court decided that no school population could comprise more than 30 percent African Americans. School administrators separated Gibbs from the community that surrounded it. In 1980, Bruce McMillian, the first white principal at Gibbs described the area in which it was located as a high crime neighborhood. African Americans complained that the principal’s statement was insensitive and showed that the school was divorced from the community. With integration, the predominantly white administration changed the name of Gibbs’ marching band from the Marching Gladiators to the Sound of the South (White 1980:19). Three years after desegregation, Gibbs, a school that trained many prominent African American musicians, did not have one African American member in its band. By 1991, the school board posted a security fence around the school. No other high school in the county is walled off from its surrounding community. Desegregation alienated African Americans from Gibbs High.
The altered world view of the desegregated schools led to a high rate of suspension among African American students. During the 1971-72 school year, African American students represented 22.5 percent of the 1,155 students suspended in Pinellas County (DeLoache 1981 :17). By 1979, 40 percent of the suspension were African American students (DeLoache 1981:17). However, they comprised 18 percent of the school population in 1971-72 and 17 percent in 1979- 80 (DeLoache 1981 :17). In the 1991-92 school year, African American students made up 17 percent of the entire student body in Pinellas schools, but they were 39 percent of the students suspended in middle school (Thomas 1992:1). African American students in elementary schools accounted for 44 percent of school suspensions and 55 percent of in-school suspensions (Thomas 1993:6). The Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (1988) concluded that black males in the ninth grade had the highest dropout rate of any group in the county. School records show a significant number of African American children are suspended because they fail to”show respect’ (Jones 1991 :3). Mildred Kennedy, a veteran teacher suggests, “Most of the white teachers do not understand black youngsters because their backgrounds are different” (Jones 1991:3)
The students’ parents are also estranged from the schools. For example, Gibbs alumni perceived that the desegregated Gibbs no longer belonged to them. In 1978, when Gibbs High school celebrated its Fiftieth anniversary, African Americans did not support the event. They held a separate program. The Gibbs after desegregation does not represent them, these alumni argue.
The loss of the school is lamented. “The worst thing that happened to the black community is the loss of Gibbs High School,” mourns Gibbs 1964 graduate, James Hills (White 1980:19). “It was the one single thing beside the black church that Blacks could rally around. When you remove something that important from a culture, how can you expect it to remain the same?” he questions (White 1980:19).
Redevelopment Again Means Negro Removal
Almost simultaneously while African Americans lost control of their children’s education, they found themselves in the path of interstate construction. As early as 1975, the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) began relocating 1,000 families to construct Interstate 275. The vast majority of these families were African Americans and many of them lived in Campbell Park, Methodist Town, and the Gas Plant neighborhoods. Fifty-four businesses and churches south of Third Avenue South were either destroyed or relocated (Harwood 1980:50). Cherished landmarks in the Gas Plant neighborhood were destroyed. Among them was the stately 50-year-old home of the late Fannye Ponder and her husband, Doctor James Ponder. He was the first African American doctor in St. Petersburg. His wife, a teacher is widely remembered for her friendships with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune and her activism to improve the condition of women. Many African Americans argue that their home should have been preserved. Nevertheless, the highway scattered neighbors, literally split the community, and walled-off Fifteenth Avenue, South a major east-west artery through the African American community, which ran from Fourth Street to Gulfport Boulevard.
Remove Those Green Benches, Let’s Go Upscale
Changing demographics and St. Petersburg’s concern about its image further uprooted African American neighborhoods. During the 1950s and 1960s, St. Petersburg attracted retirees rather than winter tourists. The “senior citizen” age group increased approximately 137 percent during the post World War period (St. Petersburg Planning Department 1965:30). By 1960, almost 30 percent of the population was over the age of 65 and the median age of those who settled near downtown was 70.6 years. Nationally, people 65 years and above represented only 11 percent of the population. In 1970, retirees in St. Petersburg comprised 34 percent of the population. As senior citizens found refuge from their winter homelands, St. Petersburg’s image as an international tourist resort changed. The city became known as a retiree community. Opulent hotels such as the Princess Martha, Vinoy, and Soreno closed and pigeons nested there. Downtown St. Petersburg became desolate and derelict.
Nationally, St. Petersburg became the brunt of many jokes and was seen as a retirement center. Comedians defined it as “God’s waiting room.” Life magazine, in a 1958 article, described the city as where lonely and bored, old people pass the time listlessly on sidewalks and green benches (Vesper) 1985:41). Such images disturbed the business community and the city’s leadership.
Merchants pressured the city to develop the downtown and improve its business climate. The St. Petersburg Times (1984:71) in a tourist guide wrote, “The city has a slum area, smaller than most, but still too large to suit us. Downtown badly needs redevelopment.” The Times argued that for years it had worked to attract tourists and new residents to the area by publishing lavish special editions touting the benefits of the Suncoast area. The editors reasoned that the slow growth and the decaying downtown compelled them to describe the city disparagingly.
St. Petersburg Progress, a coalition of utility, business, and government officials in 1977 commissioned the Fantus Company to conduct a marketing feasibility study of St. Petersburg. The researchers recommended that the city remove the green benches and ‘re-establish its image as a community consisting of young, progressive citizens’ (Vesper) 1985:45).
City officials interpreted this advice to mean that the downtown had to be reconstructed. Redevelopment became a guiding principle for the city. In a public- private venture, Bay Plaza Company was contracted to develop a waterfront retail district. Also, the city expended enormous energy and resources to bring a baseball franchise to the area. Despite the city’s new public relation campaign, the majority of its downtown residents are not young and wealthy, they are mostly poor African Americans and retired whites living on fixed incomes. Therefore, redevelopment is a euphemism for removal of residents who do not fit into St. Petersburg’s new self- image.
Trust Us. We Will Improve Your Neighborhood
When examining plans for the redevelopment of Jamestown (Methodist Town), it is clear that the Fantus study simply confirmed a path the city had already begun. As early as January,1974, city council began to remove residents from Methodist Town, one of the oldest downtown neighborhoods. However, the dislocation of the community was done under the guise of improving the homes in that area. The city council voted to construct 65 townhomes in the Methodist Town, rehabilitate 100 homes, build a $250,000 community center, and develop a two-block recreational area. Methodist Town residents embraced the redevelopment plan. The late Chester James, a well-respected community activist, especially considered this act a momentous event. He was so vigilant about the condition of Methodist Town, that the city changed the name of Methodist Town to Jamestown to honor him. Since 1933, he had requested the city to build a playground, pave streets, and enforce housing codes in Methodist Town. However, after voting for the development of Jamestown in a referendum, James learned that his home was to be demolished. He and three hundred and seventy- six ( 377) families living in Methodist Town were told to find other places to live. A disappointed James lectured city council. He said, ‘Had I understood that you intended to take my home, I would never have voted for it. I have never, never, never, wanted to get rid of it (home) …. We’ve got nice homes out here’ (Phelps 1975:1). James, who had lived in his house for 30 years suggested that the city manipulated the Methodist Town residents. James argued that the original plan indicated that homeowners with sound homes would be given low-interest loans to repair them. City officials denied the James’ claim. However, the Jamestown Redevelopment Plan (n.d. :4-5) conveys, “Dwellings units found to be suitable for rehabilitation, in Phase II will be rehabilitated without acquisition.”
When the city completed its “improvement” of Methodist Town, its past was preserved only by Bethel A. M. E. and three other churches. The neighborhood significantly lost its historical continuity. Most of the original residents were moved. Also, this once thriving community did not have a grocery store within a ten mile radius by 1985. Nevertheless, the city considered that it had removed a blighted slum from its downtown.
Take Me Out To The Ball Game
The Gas Plant community was targeted shortly thereafter. As early as June, 1973, Milo Smith and Associates, commissioned by the city council, prepared a redevelopment plan for the “Intown” section of the city. This study recommended that the Gas Plant be a priority area for development after Jamestown/Methodist Town (Gas Plant Redevelopment Plan n.d.:1). On September 7, 1978, the city council declared itself the St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Agency by Resolution 78-738 and proposed to rid the downtown of blighted conditions in the Gas Plant. Essentially, the city proposed to upgrade the living conditions of the residents, relocate and rehabilitate sound structures and to build an industrial park to create jobs. The original plan left the Gas Plant intact as a whole community.
However, in 1982, St. Petersburg informed its citizens that the plans for the Gas Plant would be altered. The area was to become the site of a baseball stadium. On November 1, 1982, St. Petersburg offered the Pinellas Sports Authority the 66-acre downtown Gas Plant redevelopment area for $1 per year lease for forty years (Andelman 1993:68).
The Gas Plant was the right place because the price was right, argues Bill Bond, a former councilman. ‘Economics drives every deal in the end,’ recalls Bond (Andelman 1993:96). He concludes that the Gas Plant was out right the best place in the county to play ball (Andelman 1993:96). However, Bond doesn’t explain why the Gas Plant was better than the three other places the city offered to the Pinellas Sports Authority. Al Lang Stadium, Albert Whitted Airport, and the former site of Webb City were offered in addition to the Gas Plant. Bond implies that acquisition of the Gas Plant was cheaper than the other public spaces. Why the relocation of an entire community is cheaper than the other sites, where not a soul lives, remains unanswered.
The city argues that the plan was changed because industries were unwilling to relocate to the Gas Plant. Allegedly the space was insufficient. However, such assessment seems inconsistent with the Gas Plant Market Study that was conducted for the city. For example, 61 percent of the firms polled said they would consider the neighborhood to be viable as an industrial area. Also, 51 percent of the respondents said that given the current status of their businesses, that location could serve their needs for more than five years (City of St. Petersburg Planning Department appendices nd: 1-4). Twenty-six percent of those polled were concerned about crime in the area. However, the city proposed that problem could be eliminated with increased security. According to the city’s own study, the Gas Plant was perceived as adequate for industrial development.
Bob Andelman’s (1993) book, Stadium for Rent: Tampa Bay’s Quest for Major League Baseball, suggests that the Gas Plant was designated as the site of the stadium for two reasons. The primary reason was to keep the dream of baseball alive within the Pinellas Sports Authority. Andelman (1993:48) writes that as early as 1966, Jack Lake, a publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, proposed the idea that St. Petersburg needed a major league baseball team. In 1976, he helped establish the Pineilas Sports Authority to bring a team to Pinellas County. However, this county-wide all-white male group did not have major funding from the County Commission. Andelman (1993:64) argues that without the site being located in a specific city, the hope of bringing a team to the county was just an idea.
The second motivation was the need to build a stadium before Tampa did. The decision to locate the stadium in the Gas Plant area was further pushed by the Tampa Sports Authority who proposed to bring a team to Tampa. Not to be outdone, within days of Tampa’s proposal to bring a baseball franchise to the area, St. Petersburg identified the Gas Plant as the site of the baseball stadium (Andelman 1993:68). The Gas Plant was sacrificed to keep Jack Lake’s dream alive and to get ahead of Tampa.
The city acknowledges that the Gas Plant was a well-established community and it disrupted the lives of some residents. The Gas Plant Redevelopment plan documents, “Many of the Gas Plant Project Area residents have lived in this area for over 40 years, the relocation of these families will involve some dispersal of long term neighbors.” It also reports that Gas Plant was the site of the Davis Elementary, the first Negro elementary school in St. Petersburg and the first James Weldon Johnson library. Nevertheless a $138 million domed baseball stadium that still sits empty, replaced a neighborhood that was once an anchor in the African American community. Twenty seven businesses, nine churches and 800 residents were displaced and a social fabric of the Gas Plant destroyed. Every trace of its legacy is removed; only memories exist.
Three Strikes, You Are Out
In 1988, the city decided that 800 more parking spaces were needed to accommodate a major league team. Development officials argued that the city could not attract a baseball franchise without additional parking spaces. Therefore, the city acquired Laurel Park, a 5.6-acre federally subsidized apartment complex for low- income families for $4.3 million. Edward White, the executive director of St. Petersburg Housing Authority was so anxious to remove the Laurel Park residents that he began relocating the 168 residents on February 14, 1990 without the approval of federal Housing and Urban Department (HUD). He violated federal regulations governing that agency (Tampa Tribune 5.5.90). On May 4 and June 17, 1990, HUD notified White to stop the relocation of the residents. However, this federal agency on June 21, 1990 approved the removal of the other tenants and Laurel Park was razed. To date, the site is an unpaved lot.
As in the case of Jamestown and Gas Plant officials alleged that they were primarily concerned about the welfare of the Laurel Park residents. Edward White, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, the agency that owned Laurel Park, argued that it was not fit for human habitation. Some residents suggested that if White’s assessment was true, he was responsible for creating the condition. On May 5, 1990, thirty tenants wrote a letter to the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Jack Kemp, and charged that White secretly conspired with the city to allow Laurel Park to reach an intolerable state. For example, in 1985 the city gave the housing authority $521,526 in Community Development Block Grant money to fix up Laurel Park (Stebbins 1990:17A). Also, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contributed another $250,000 grant. The General Accounting Office (GAO) in a 1987 assessment of Laurel Park determined that its structure was sound, and that the housing officials were responsible for its poor condition (Stebbins 1990:17A). Despite the resources available to repair Laurel Park, the housing authority spent less than $15,000. White suggests that he did not improve Laurel Park because he knew the city would buy it (Stebbens 1990:17A). Off the record, a top-level city official instrumental in the redevelopment of the city also confirmed White’s appraisal.
In their letter to Kemp, residents protested their removal and argued that White disregarded their needs. Delores Jackson, president of the Laurel Park Tenant Association and some of her neighbors asked that Laurel Park be preserved. They debated that the location provided them access to the stadium, bus routes, shopping and grocery stores. The tenants engaged a lawyer and HUD delayed the move for a few weeks while it investigated the sale of the building. One may conclude, that HUD’s investigation was perfunctory. Thomas Sherman, Acting General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing had already ruled on September 26, 1989 that the disposition of Laurel Park was justified. He wrote in a memorandum to Raymond A. Harris, Regional Administrator of the Regional Housing Commission, that Laurel Park “is located where developmental changes in the surrounding area are adversely affecting the health and safety of the tenants. The area is no longer residential and is isolated from essential residential services.” Obviously the residents’ perception of Laurel Park, as a place accessible to service conflicted with Sherman’s appraisal. The delay of the relocation was short-lived. The sale of Laurel Park was sanctioned by HUD and the residents were forced to find other places to live.
CHAPTER 4 CONTINUED. . .
It’s The Same Old Ball Game
After the city acquired Laurel Park for parking, it again argued that it needed additional spaces for parking. Therefore, another African American neighborhood adjacent to Laurel Park and the stadium was destroyed. In December, 1992 the city approved $938,500 to purchase and demolish five privately owned homes, a filling station and a small apartment complex. Again all of the residents were moved and their homes were hewn-down by a wrecking ball.
On March 30, 1993, Louise Macon, was forced to sell the city her home. She cried as her house was demolished.
It was inevitable that the city would take my home. Churches had been knocked down in order for the Dome to be built . . . They take our communities. . . What do blacks have other than their churches?, she argued. Almost forty years of memories for 79-year-old Macon became dust as a backhoe ripped apart her home of 37 years.
Tragically, the city’s removal plans are directed by a wistful yearning for a baseball team rather than a concrete reality. Peter Ueberroth, baseball commissioner explicitly informed St. Petersburg on July 16, 1986 that the commission could not assure the city that it would receive a baseball franchise. He also told St. Petersburg, “In our evaluation of potential cities for relocation or expansion, St. Petersburg is not among the top candidates. You must recognize that any current decision by St. Petersburg to undertake construction of a facility capable of housing Major League Baseball will be made by your community without any encouragement whatsoever on the part of Major League Baseball” (Andelman 1993:97).
St. Petersburg did not heed Ueberroth’s word. Eight days after receiving Ueberroth’s letter, city council voted on July 24, 1986 to build the stadium. In fact, the “Vault”, the secret all- white male group seeking to bring baseball to the city were determined to disprove his assessment (Andelman 1993:97). Between 1987 and 1992 the city sought to purchase the Chicago White Sox, the Seattle Mariners, the San Francisco Giants and bided for a Major League expansion team. All of its efforts were unsuccessful. The Chicago White Sox remained in Chicago after the Illinois Legislature voted to build a better stadium on July 1, 1988. When the White Sox deal was trampled by the Illinois lawmakers, St. Petersburg encouraged the baseball commission to award the city with an expansion team. Miami received the expansion team instead. However, baseball- hungry city officials were undeterred. Jeff Smulyan, owner of the Seattle Mariners was courted after he sent distress signals that he was losing money in Seattle. Although, St. Petersburg’s officials were convinced that they had a team, on July 1,1992 Smulyan announced that Nintendo of America would be the new owners of the Mariners (Andelman 1993:251). St Petersburg fans complained that Nintendo was Japanese owned. However, the baseball commission, decided that the yen was not restricted to a national border. Baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent sent a message to St. Petersburg. He said, ‘I don’t believe that communities would be well advised to speculate on the future of either baseball expansion or baseball migration. I think that’s what happened in St. Petersburg and it’s exacerbated a serious problem into a devastating one’ (Andelman 1993:251). St. Petersburg had struck out three times and Vincent told them that they could not win this game. Again, they chose not to listen.
During the summer of 1992, Bob Lurie, owner of the San Francisco Giants complained that he was losing money in San Francisco and Candlestick Park was a miserable place to play. The taxpayers in San Francisco and San Jose had turned down referendums to build a new stadium with tax revenues. Hearing such news, Rick Dodge, assistant city manager and Jack Critchfield, a member of St. Petersburg Progress, a non- profit downtown development agency (Its membership is comprised primarily of white businessmen) led a delegation to San Francisco to talk to Lurie. On August 7, 1992, with great fan-fare, the city held a press conference at the Dome and reported that Lurie had agreed to sell the Giants to St. Petersburg. They told the public it was a sure deal pending confirmation by the baseball commission. During the next couple of months, the chamber of commerce and baseball fans celebrated St. Petersburg’s victory. However, on November 10, 1992, Bud Selig, the acting commissioner, Bill White, National League president and Fred Kulhmann, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals announced that St. Petersburg’s fifteen year quest for a team would not end with the San Francisco Giants moving to Tampa Bay. The team owners and the baseball commission agreed that San Francisco Giants should remain in San Francisco. After such failures, it appears that it would have been prudent for St. Petersburg to follow Ueberroth’s and Vincent’s instructions -get a team before building a stadium. St. Petersburg’s failure to heed the commissioners’ warnings resulted in the Dome becoming a white elephant used for garage and car dealership sales.
St. Petersburg became sore losers. The city sued Major League baseball for anti- trust violation and turned its anger against Bill White. Rumors floated that Bill White had sought revenge against St. Petersburg. White, an African American who played for the St. Louis Cardinals spent seven spring trainings in St. Petersburg between 1950s and 1960s. During his entire stay, he and other African American players stayed in the black community, in fact in the Gas Plant area. They were not permitted to room at the Vinoy and Soreno where the white baseball players stayed. The city of St. Petersburg and its business leaders demonstrated to the African American players that their role was to simply entertain the fans. In 1961, when the Chamber of Commerce held its annual “Salute to Baseball” breakfast banquet, it invited all of the baseball players except the African American athletes. White challenged the white power structure of St. Petersburg and reported the incident to Associated Press, baseball writer Joe Reichler, who posted the story (Baal 1992:5). White questioned, ‘When will we (Negro players) be made to feel like humans? They invited all but the colored players. Even the kids who never have come to bat once in the big leagues received invitations-that is if they were white’ (Baal 1992:3). His public outcry embarrassed the Chamber of Commerce. They hastily invited the Negro players to the breakfast. All of the African American players refused their offer except Elston Howard, a New York Yankee.
White’s protest against the racism in St. Petersburg led the Yankees to relocate their spring camp to Fort Lauderdale where integrated hotel facilities could be found. Also, the Cardinals moved to a hotel in the northern part of the county that was willing to accommodate all players. White concluded, ‘As long as these things (racist practices) go on, I’d rather train somewhere else’ (Baal 1992:3). Remembering these past events, led to widespread speculation that White was repaying St. Petersburg. News reporters questioned White about how his experiences in St. Petersburg thirty years ago affected his vote. He replied, “What does what happened in spring training back then have to do with what’s going on now? . . . Anyway, thing are different now in St. Petersburg than they were then…. Aren’t they?’ (Baal 1992:3). It was difficult for anyone in the city to respond positively to White’s question.
Some Things Do Not Change
St. Petersburg had not changed. Bill White knew that the same legacy of racism that ruled the city’s decisions about him in 1961 and also influenced African American life in 1992. In fact, while the city tried to convince the National League president that St. Petersburg was great place for a baseball team, it was embroiled in a racial controversy. During that time, whites anxiously tried to rid the city of its black interim city manager and return the white chief of police whom he had fired back to his office. Moreover, many whites were shocked that this black man, Don McRae, had the audacity to fire chief of police, Ernest “Curt” Curtsinger, a white man. Therefore, many whites urgently sought to revise the city charter and to re-employ Curtsinger. However, returning to the status quo was made difficult by a unified black community who supported McRae and had grown tired of being racially harassed. This episode revealed just how much St. Petersburg had not changed. It remained a city divided by skin color.
On February 28, 1992, McRae as Interim City Manager fired Curtsinger. McRae told the public on March 2 during an emergency meeting that Curtsinger was fired for the following reasons: He had a “multi-million dollar budget deficit, escalated funding when fiscal constraint was needed, failed to work cooperatively with the management team, and did not listen to advice and dismissed his superiors’ instructions as misperceptions.” McRae’s reasons were coded in the semantics of management. It was well known and the St. Petersburg Times (3.20.93) confirmed that Curtsinger had been fired because of his insensitivity toward blacks in St. Petersburg.
The African American community decried that Curtsinger disregarded their needs almost immediately after he was hired August ,1990. African American organizations protested that Curtsinger failed to meet with the black ministers, openly disparaged their concerns about police brutality, undermined the power of black police officers, aborted an affirmative action program designed to promote African Americans within the police department and terminated a cultural sensitivity training program which he dismissed as “white bashing.” Walt Williams, representing Baptist Ministers’ conference summarized the African American community’s perception of Curtsinger. He suggested that the chief of police had consistently sought to reduce the position of African Americans.
Civil rights organizations and black ministers gave examples of Curtsinger’s treatment of blacks on his police force. They argued that shortly after Curtsinger arrived, he shifted Assistant Chief, Goliath Davis, an African American native of Methodist Town from the patrol division to the department of administration and training. As supervisor of the police on the streets, Davis had power to influence their treatment of African Americans. However, as manager of non-police personnel, police relations with the black community was no longer his official domain. His powers were restricted by this “promotion.” A few months after redefining Davis’ role, Curtsinger also publicly announced that he had promoted Cedric Gordon to lieutenant to appease the black community. However, he added that Gordon’s new position was an “affirmative action promotion.” Finally, on December 16, 1992, he terminated the cultural diversity training. Although, he reinstated it on January 8, 1993, nine of the ten trainers were white. The African American community perceived Curtsinger’s management style as racist. African Americans were insulted and offended by his actions. They persistently pressured city official to address the problem. However, no significant action was taken by the mayor and city council members. Nevertheless, the protest of African Americans quickened after Curtsinger suspended the racial sensitivity training. Daily for three months before his firing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Baptist Ministers’ Conference, Federation of Inner-City Organization (FICO) demanded Curtsinger’s termination. Even a couple of week before McRae’s firing the Community Alliance filed a vote of no confidence against Curtsinger and recommended that he step down. Their demands were abetted by the Los Angeles Police Department video taped beating of Rodney King. Curtsinger was a twenty-six year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department before he moved to St. Petersburg. They argued that Curtsinger had so polarized the community by race that a riot was likely.
McRae decided that their concerns were real and St. Petersburg no longer needed Curtsinger’s services. For the first time in the history of St. Petersburg a city official had been fired for implementing discriminatory actions against African Americans. Moreover, this firing had been carried out by an African American who became city manager after his boss was forced to resign because he concealed a $3.5 million offer for a municipal building that the city sold for less (Olinga 1991:1 D). By the powers vested in him by the city charter as chief administrative officer for the city, he made a landmark decision.
In less than an hour after Curtsinger’s firing, his supporters stormed city hall. Reporter Susan Eastman (1992) said that this all -white, mostly male crowd looked like a Iynch mob. They paraded in front of city hall with a casket bearing McRae’s name on it. Police had to surround McRae and quickly remove him. The modern day St. Petersburg revealed that the old St. Petersburg, a racially charged and divided city, was still alive.
Curtsinger supporters did not consider Curtsinger’s behavior to be racially or culturally insensitive. Instead they suggested that McRae had taken his orders from Garnelle Jenkins president of the NAACP and Sevell Brown, president of SCLC.
Therefore protest from Curtsinger’s supporters was vehement and diverse. Virginia Swanson, a neighborhood organizer who became one of Curtsinger’s strongest allies said that “the people in St. Petersburg are really angry and feeling disfranchised at not being able to have any input into their government.” Barbara Crockett, a white and Pinellas County School Board member whose district includes the predominantly African American community in Southside St. Petersburg, suggested, “If they (African Americans) do not like the way things are run, perhaps they should find another community to live in” (Koff and Marbin 1992).
Immediately afterwards, Curtsinger’s supporters began a drive to alter the city charter, rescind the powers of the city manager, return Curtsinger, and make the mayor the chief administrative officer. Curtsinger’s organizers gathered enough signatures to have a referendum on the charter set for June 16, 1992. Within a week, 18,200 people had signed petitions to change the charter and bring Curtsinger back (St. Petersburg Times March 20, 1992). Former mayors, Corrine Freeman, Don Jones and Randolph Wedding, joined the debate. They argued that the charter needed to be changed. However, neither of them had suggested such alterations during their mayoral terms.
African Americans proposed the motive to change the charter was racism. One grandmother replied to journalist Susan Eastman (1992:4), “If white people feel their dominance threatened, the most sacrosanct institutions all of sudden will be changed.” Maggie Sheppard, a citizen on June 22, 1992 wrote a letter to editor of St. Petersburg Times concerning the drive to change the charter. She said the despite the denial of some residents, the center of the Curtsinger issue was race. “Everyone with ‘walking around sense’ knows that if Don McRae had been white or Curtsinger had been black, none of this would have happened.”
The Curtsinger crisis unified African Americans in St. Petersburg. Organizations philosophically divided, temporarily put aside their differences and pulled their constituencies together. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Baptist Ministers’ Conference, and Federation of Inner City Organizations (FICO) held town meetings in various churches. With one voice, African American leaders told the city they would not tolerate Curtsinger’s return. Also, they invited Dr. Joseph Lowery, national president of SCLC and Dr. Bobby Doctor, director of U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to St. Petersburg to reinforce their message. Throughout the southside of St. Petersburg, graffiti-scrawled walls warned, “Curtsinger must go or St. Petersburg will burn.”
To prevent a race riot, appease the Curtsinger supporters, and to delay a referendum on the charter, Mayor David Fisher and the council struck a deal with Curtsinger and his lawyer. On a Sunday morning, May 31, 1992, city officials announced a $585,000-offer to Curtsinger to forego the referendum vote. The city also agreed to give him another municipal job and a 17 percent increase in his salary which was raised from $78,000 to $91,480, if he stayed in the city. The city council found a way to return Curtsinger to city government and usurp McRae’s power.
The council’s settlement with Curtsinger angered many African Americans. On June 1, 1992, the Monday evening after the settlement, more than a thousand African Americans attended a Summit on Urban Leadership (SOUL) at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church. Ministers and Civil Rights leaders demanded that the African- American voters contact their council members and request that summer jobs be made available to the youths. They argued if the city was able to give Curtsinger a half million dollars, it could afford to provide its youths with jobs. Reverend Wilkins Garrett recalled that the city council had only allocated $200,000 for its entire social service budget for all of the residents in St. Petersburg. However, it had given one person over $500,000. Among the leadership attending the meeting, there was a consensus that African Americans had been left out of the decision-making process.
Despite their disgust directed against Curtsinger and city hall, SOUL, the organizational bond existing among African American was very fragile. On June 29, 1992 SOUL held another community gathering. The intent of the meeting was to offer concrete plans for empowering the community and to initiate a selective buying campaign against the businesses that financially supported Curtsinger. However, even as speakers talked about organizing neighborhoods and determining economic outcomes, the Summit on Urban Leadership split into two camps. The NAACP and the IMA broke away from SCLC and FICO. Only those in the SCLC camp attended the June 29 meeting. It was suggested that the division occurred when an unidentified group independently submitted a proposal to the city for summer jobs. This breach of trust and other unexplained differences ended the Summit on Urban Leadership.
Despite the ruptured relationships among African American leadership, the African American community managed to show its political strength approximately nine months later. Three months after Curtsinger had been given the job of managing the Port Authority, he quit and decided to run for mayor. March 23, 1993, African Americans turned out in record numbers to defeat his bid for mayor. This loss shook Curtsinger. He challenged the validity of the results, although the county court verified the legitimacy of the election. However, Curtsinger later claimed that the computer was not efficient. Three times the votes were counted twice by computer and once by hand. Each time the ballots affirmed that Curtsinger had lost the election.
Although, the African American community overwhelmingly voted against a strong mayoral form of government, the charter was altered. The majority of the white American voters decided that St. Petersburg needed an elected boss, rather than a city manager.
Whether 1890 or 1990, life in St. Petersburg has been a struggle for African Americans. Racism, tourism and other economic schemes have consistently determined where they lived, worked, played and the quality of their lives. Since their arrival on this sun-drenched peninsula, they have continually created strategies that would dignify their presence in a hostile environment.
I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquid — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…. I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.
(Ralph Ellison 1989:3)
A life history is a contextual view of transactional processes that involve biological, social, and psychological dimensions. It characterizes the dialectical relation between the individual and social change (Elder 1981:78). Hence, individuals are both products and producers of their history (Elder 1981:78).
In St. Petersburg, as elsewhere, each individual constructs a life in relation to the political economy in which they find themselves. Within this framework, they define collectively what it means to be human and African American, and in former decades to be Negro, Colored and black. Yet individually they interpret these ethnic prescriptions to fit their personal needs. Each person pursues a separate path. Hence their roles, status, occupations, family and community lives, and spirituality represent who they are individually as much as they portray the opportunities which the social structure has afforded them.
The goal of this chapter is to profile the lives of five of the thirty-two people who were interviewed. The task of choosing which five lives to highlight was difficult. However, I chose to tell the stories of a laborer, a businessman, a retail clerk, a bus driver, and a nurse because their lives represent achievements despite the social conditions. Mr. Shannon’s life reveals how sharecropping, his rural upbringing and a limited education provided him few economic options. Yet he demonstrates how pride can be instilled in labor and ensure a sense of worth. Mrs. Louise Macon shows how a definitive sense of self and intelligence opened doors to her that were closed to other Negroes. Her determination to lead a life unrestricted by race allowed her also to challenge the city’s encroachment on her property. Mr John Clayton’snarrative confirms that his resourcefulness as a businessman gave him access to a comfortable living although he had limited schooling. His life also reveals how the Seventh Day Adventist church became an anchor for him and his family. Deacon Clinton Falana, the first black bus driver in St. Petersburg and at one time a single parent, discloses his ability to diminish the power of race in his environment. Graduating from high school and going to nursing school during the 1930s is a feat for an African American woman. However receiving a graduate nursing degree from Columbia University and becoming a supervisor of white nurses in the St. Petersburg Health department during the 1950s are even more remarkable. The power of these accomplishments is exemplified in the life of Mrs. Marie Yopp. Together their life histories provide substance and texture to a social history that is dialectically constructed but individually lived.
Mr. Arthur Shannon
Mr. Arthur Shannon is an eighty-two year old retiree who looks a decade younger. He is a separated father of fifteen children and a very Christian Baptist who was born in Wilk County, Georgia. His parents died when he was very young. His oldest sister reared him. He has lived, worked, and worshiped in St. Petersburg for 58 years.
A visit with his brother initially brought him to St. Petersburg right after the Depression. However, he did not settle in St. Petersburg until 1952. After sharecropping a ninety-acre farm in Georgia, he decided to stay here like his brother, John did decades before. He too, hoped to find better opportunities.
His rural background and Christian spirituality are standards by which he measures his current existence. Therefore, work and the church figure prominently in his life. These dimensions have allowed Mr. Shannon to find a sense of purpose and place in a black and white world.
I first encountered Mr. Shannon at a community center. I went there to recruit some of the senior citizens for my research. Few of these elders seemed interested in divulging their lives to me. Mr. Shannon overheard my request while he helped prepare meals for the seniors who had lunch at the center. Later, when his chores were completed he approached me. He respectfully and gingerly said, “Honey I’ll help you. . . Take my phone number and give me a call.” He explained that he lived in a retirement center and I could interview him there. Subsequently, I visited him three different afternoons at his high rise apartment which he shares with two caged parakeets. However, I would see him many other times since each of us worked at the Enoch Davis community center.
Migrating To St. Petersburg
Mr. Shannon migrated to St. Petersburg from Georgia. He joined the many cohorts who had made the same trip since the late 1880s. For seventeen years, he was a seasonal visitor. Between 1935 and 1952, he made seasonal sojourns to St. Petersburg. He describes his trips in this manner: I had a brother that lived here. I used to be a farmer up in Georgia. So I just came down every year when I got through harvesting to visit them. After so long . . . I got a job at Webb City as porter. I think it was eighteen dollars a week. Well that was good money for someone coming off the farm. Then I would go back to Georgia and start farming. Another time, when I came here I got a job with Benson Manson shell company unloading shells out of a box car . . . I was working for sixty cents an hour. I didn’t make much money…. So I would stay for three or four months at a time. Then I would go back home to turn the land and get ready to plant ’cause I was a guy that had a family. And I had to make ‘nough money to satisfy my family.
Trying to support a family as a sharecropper and seasonal worker was difficult. Mr. Shannon explains that after selling his crops, he would pay the landlord rent for use of the land each year. Growing crops would also incur other debts-fertilizer, credits and loans he had received during the year. They also had to be paid before Mr. Shannon could determine how much he had profited. Mr. Shannon recounts, “Time you got through sometimes, you didn’t have nothing for yourself.”
Sharecropping not only impoverished Mr. Shannon, it undermined the education of his children. He says that, in addition to paying off his debts, he had to raise enough food to feed two families — his and the landowner’s. Mr. Shannon reasons his situation as, “White people would tell you, . . . ‘you got to take that boy or that girl out of school to help you work. You can’t do this work by yourself.’ Mr. Shannon suggests, “You just had to let them work to satisfy him and to get the supplies he was going to furnish you that month.” Retrospectively, Mr. Shannon assesses the adverse impact of sharecropping on his children’s education and concludes, “Now I understand that the landowners did not want to see my children educated.”
These conditions motivated Mr. Shannon to finally settle in St. Petersburg in 1952, the year that his brother died. However, his wife was not convinced that St. Petersburg was a better place. He explains, “My wife came down and she didn’t like it.” She had to work when she came here because times were hard for Black families. “She didn’t like what she had to do.” She had to scrub on her knees and wash windows and walls…. And that was a fact. ” Mr. Shannon reveals, “According to my wife, we lived better than this on the farm. She wanted to live in Georgia and I didn’t. So that is why we separated. That is what happened.” Therefore, she returned home. The pain likely associated with this separation is seen in Mr. Shannon’s account of his romance with his wife. He recounts that when he dated Louise, he was so overwhelmed by his love for her that he stopped eating. Mr. Shannon reminiscences, “She would write letters and I would lay out on the porch reading them. I used to plow all day and wouldn’t even a word leave my mouth.” His brother signed for him to marry her because Mr. Shannon was only 17 and a half years old. On a third Sunday, the 18th of August, 1929, he married his school sweetheart. However, approximately twenty-three years later they would be parted by his migration to St. Petersburg.
Conditions Encountered In St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg was booming when Mr. Shannon arrived. He describes the city as follows: “Honey, it used to be so many tourists here, you could hardly walk down Central Avenue without butting into people. During that time the city was building.” “They were not tearing everything down.”
Despite the bustling character of St. Petersburg when Mr. Shannon arrived, it was clearly a town of two tales, one black and one white. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to says one was Negro and the other was white. Therefore in the same breath that he talks about the tourists, he recalls “the Green benches” that Negroes were not permitted to sit on, separate drinking water fountains and a mob of “Whites” dragging a Colored man behind their car.
In fact, he recounts a racial incident that occurred while he was here in 1937. He suggests that a policeman patrolling a carnival at Bartlett Park encountered a J. C. “Honeybabe” Moses standing at ropes. The police asked the young man to move back but he would not. A fight began and the police officer was killed as he tried to arrest “Honeybabe.” The suspect hid for a few days before one of his friends, who was allegedly bought out told the police of his hideout. Mr. Shannon sums the story in this manner: “They took him out and drugged (dragged) him down a street.” He says, “‘rectly after that happened I left. I did not want to live here, I moved back to Georgia. . . My brother told me to go back home and wait until all this settle before I come back.”
Although, these apartheid-like conditions existed, Mr. Shannon suggests that people assessed the situation in relation to their future and past — what people were accustomed, what they were willing to endure and what they hoped to gain were major considerations in their decisions to live here or elsewhere. Therefore, he concludes that many African Americans born in St. Petersburg migrated to the Northern cities. He deduces that many followed the tourist season but did not return. “They did not want to come back to the kind of life they were raised in,” Mr. Shannon justifies. Most of the people from Georgia, Alabama, and Carolina came from the farm and saw St. Petersburg as offering a better future, he concludes.
People find ways to survive and maintain a sense of self and preserve their lives in hostile environments. Mr. Shannon suggests that despite the injustice of racism, he found security in obeying the laws. He explains, “as long as those signs (colored and white signs) were there, I know it was violating the law if I went against them.” He reminds me of the conditions that helped to “protect” the Colored from whites. “Now back in my days, when I was growing up, Mr. Shannon articulates, you really couldn’t talk to white folks anyway.” He says when circumstances changed, he told his children, “Now you can talk to them (whites) but give them respect Anybody you respect, they will respect you back.” He also admonished his children to stay in school and take advantage of the opportunities school offered. He considered learning was a strong weapon against the hard times of racism. Significant attitudes toward race did not change in St. Petersburg until the 1970s Mr. Shannon remembers. This social change gave him a greater sense of security. He relates the situation as follows:
It has been really nice. What I mean is that I have more peace of mind. Before, I was scared that I was going to make a mistake and get in jail or get Iynched or beat up or something. I have more freedom in my life. Freedom of thinking. I can think better without being fearful.
Mr. Shannon believes that this truce in race relations is superficial and staged. He suggests that fear of lawsuits led whites to stop harming colored people. He implies that institutional racism is more subtle and deceptive. He gives two examples. “McCrory’s still is not willing to serve Coloreds …. They act funny downtown now — as if they do not want you there. I used to go there to eat. Last year, I went there and they (waiters) took their own time about waiting on me. Plus, they tried to overcharge me. They (McCrory’s) have another way of keeping you from going there,” Mr. Shannon realizes. He also emphasizes the shift in division of labor in this dialectical environment. Mr. Shannon stresses that prior to desegregation, “White men would not do the jobs that Black men did. You couldn’t catch a white man with a shovel, …. now they have grabbed all the jobs.”
Although Mr. Shannon acknowledges that institutional racism still exists in St. Petersburg, he reports that a niece and one of his sons have crossed barriers which he had been socialized not to breach. He explains that his niece is married to a white man and his son dates a white woman. He reasons, “if you are going to send black and white children to school together, you can’t keep them from being in love or associating with one another.”
Alexander Leighton (1959:136) says that humans strive to become their true selves and attempt to find ways that will affirm themselves despite a sociocultural environment. Mr. Shannon finds his sense of place in work and his Christian faith.
Limited schooling and his skin color would significantly restrict Mr. Shannon’s occupational opportunities. Few financial rewards would accompany the many jobs he held. Whether discussing his work as a farmer, garbage truck driver, construction worker or a handy man, a sense of pride is always evident. For example, he proudly recalls, “I hop’d build the Hilton. We poured it in 8 days. The forms would just slip up as we poured. We had a crew that worked at night and a crew worked in the day time.” He also recalls that he helped construct the Bayfront Center, an entertainment complex that the city owns. Later, he showed me his chauffeur’s license that he received when he first came to St. Petersburg. He boasts, “I stood the test…. I never lost them. I was recommended as a safe driver. Mr. Shannon really perks up when he discusses his craft as a farmer. He paints a scenario of his achievement on a Georgia farm with ninety acres and four mules, “I made good farms. I grew cotton, corn, peanuts, tobacco and pimento peppers. I growed anything that mother earth would let me plant. We cured our own meat, raised 200-300 heads of chickens, and made our own syrup, meal, and sausages.” He reminds me, “We were independent and I took care of my wife and children.”
It appears that for Mr. Shannon, work is a form of worship and art. He boasts that he never took “soft jobs like working in hotels.” Until this day he works and scoffs at others who admonish that he should truly quit. His retirement marks a bureaucratic rite of passage for social security, rather than altering his role as a workman. Work nurtures an essential core of his being. He points out that he does not have to work, his car is paid. He asserts, “I do it because I love it”.
Although work brings status and pride to Mr. Shannon, religion lifts his spirits and directs his life. “I get joy when I go to church.” He is a Baptist but he suggests that “if you get your heart right, any religion suits you alright.” However, he warns that going to church every time the doors open means that “you are gonna keep the pressure on you and your religion. Just like He (God) said, there is time for all things.”
Mr. Shannon is concerned about some of the contemporary practices in the church. He laments that his church members focus on appearances and have forgotten the “old time religious songs.” Mournfully, he explains that the days are gone when he could wear a pair of starched and ironed overalls and jumper to church. “Now they tell you how to dress. If you don’t dress like they want, they (church members) don’t recognize you and may tell you to go home and put on some clothes.” He is also concerned that his church does not help the homeless and poor. He suggests that although he gives fifty dollars for the Pastor’s Aid fund, he can not depend on his church to assist him if he is sick and needs medicine or to pay his light bill. Also he complains that the choirs only sing contemporary music. He wonders if the church should allow rap in its services like it did one Sunday. He emphatically expresses that women should not be allowed in the pulpit and found it shameful when the pastor allowed a woman to preach from this all-male domain once. Mr. Shannon argues, “a lady don’t ‘spose to speak in the church unless she has a veil on her face. The Bible told me.” The evolution of the church services causes grave concern for Mr. Shannon, but he acknowledges that “God is looking for a righteous heart.”
Although he determines that “the members have too much pride and they ain’t going to reach glory,” he is not dogmatic in his spirituality. For example, he explains that he never liked blues and dances because that wasn’t the way he was raised. He reminds me that he was reared in a Christian family. But he says his wife enjoyed dancing. Therefore he cared for the children while she went to dances.
He considers religion as a way to ensure a better life. He recounts a conversation he had with his son about him drinking whiskey. “I tell him, ‘Don’t you know the Lord will bless you better and you’ll have a happy heart. I said go and get your spiritual food. You can feel better. If you ain’t got nothing but a quarter, you’re still happy. Why worry and go on when you can pray to God and he’ll take care of you.'”
Although, Mr. Shannon has lived in St. Petersburg for three decades, he talks about Georgia as if he left the farm last year. He laments that he now has to eat out a paper sack rather than from the land and wishes he could go back to Georgia to live. St. Petersburg seems to be just another sojourn.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUED. . .
Mr. John Clayton
John Clayton and his wife of 56 years reared and educated two sons and a daughter. They became a pharmacist, a teacher and a nurse. Mrs. Clayton did not work outside of the immediate family environment. Her husband found enterprising ways to support his family. Without formal schooling in a society stratified by race and class he became an entrepreneur and real estate investor. As a member of “Negro society in St. Petersburg” he influenced the lives of many youths. Despite his achievements, Mr. Clayton concludes, “The worst thing that happened to me was not getting an education.” However, he considers his fate and status a blessing from God. As a devout Seventh Day Adventist, he asserts that God looked out for him even when he didn’t.
In Search For A Better Life
Mr. Clayton is a product of secondary migration. He was born 1911 in rural Georgia. While in elementary school his family moved to Pelham, Georgia to find better work. There, his father, who was a Baptist minister, worked as a carpenter, and his mother did laundry and sewed as a seamstress. His older brother labored at the fertilizer plant. However, by the time he was eleven years old the family moved to Woodlawn, Pennsylvania, a steel mill town, 15 miles from Pittsburgh.
Although, his father began working in the steel mill, that job was short lived. He developed asthma and had to terminate his work in that industry. Hence, he resumed his trade as carpenter. He was very successful in securing clients and making money, but the weather was too severe for his health.
“His doctor told him that he could not make another winter there.” The physician recommended that “he move to either Florida or Arizona.” He suggested St. Petersburg, because he was familiar with its slogan — “The Sunshine City.” October 1, 1925, Mr. Clayton, his father and mother moved to St. Petersburg and joined an uncle who was residing here. His four brothers remained in Pittsburgh area.
A Life Defined By The Color Of Your Skin
When they arrived in St. Petersburg, Negroes were trying to create a community within prescribed areas of the city. He found several Negro owned businesses and professional establishments. There were beer gardens, chicken stands (fast food restaurants), two cab companies, funeral homes, and two doctor’s offices. However, the majority of the residents were not especially prosperous. He remembers that few of them had cars and most worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and in the tourist trade.
Although the weather had attracted many tourists it did not offer much relief for his father’s illness. The Florida humidity did not offer him much solace. He continued to suffer from asthma.
His father’s illness led his mother to take an active role in helping to support the family. “She was having to take in washing and ironing. She would wash all day and iron all night …. It really hurt me to my heart,” he remembers. His family’s financial situation led him to drop out of school in the tenth grade.
During the late 1920s, there were few employment options available to a young Negro teen. Therefore, his first job was a waiter at the Garden cafeteria. Later, he worked as a house-man for the Soreno Hotel. In this role, he assisted guests. Mr. Clayton describes this employment as being “something like a maid. ”
St. Petersburg was a hostile environment for Negroes during his early days. “I want you to be shore to put this down,” he emphatically states during our interview. “St. Petersburg was known for its green benches…. But the bad thing about it, they had “whites only” right across them. You (anyone black) couldn’t sit on them.” This caste system also required Mr. Clayton and his cohorts to find stores that had separate toilets for “blacks and whites.” He exclaims, “I thought about how stupid the rules were!”
These despotic codes of conducts led to the death of a close friend. During 1937, J. C. “Honey Babe” Moses, who he describes as “a real light skinned brother, with good hair whom Whites often mistook as white,” was killed. He vividly recalls the circumstance of this death as if it happen recently. The Friday night before Honey Babe died, he along with Mr. Clayton and another friend attended a Green Devils football game. They were not permitted to go in the stadium to see this all-white team so they joined the other ten or twelve blacks who were looking at the game through the fence. He saw his friend for the last time at a circus in Campbell Park. But his lasting image of “Honey Babe” would be of his dying body concealed in a basket on the lawn of Williams’ Funeral home with hundreds of Whites parading around it.
Police brutality led to the fatal end of his twenty-something year-old friend. A few days prior to his death, “Honey Babe” was roughed up by the police because he refused to step off of the sidewalk when two rookie policemen passed. Mr. Clayton suggests that his friend sought to address the initial altercation through the police system. He reported the incident to desk sergeant. The officer allegedly told him, “If you don’t get out of here, I’ll kick you out.” Mr. Clayton underscores, “Folks were very rude to black people in those days!” Reportedly, “Honey Babe” told the sergeant he would be sorry for his inaction. Later when he encountered the same rookie policemen who had attacked him, he shot both of them. One policeman died immediately and death came to the second one later while he was in the hospital. Before dying he managed to identify “Honey Babe” as the suspect. Mr. Clayton explains that in the beginning the press assumed that he was white. “The next day’s paper (Sunday), they did not say whether it was white or black. In those days, if the race was not given, it was assumed that the person was white.” However, when whites discovered the identity of “Honey Babe,” they swarmed the black community. Mr. Clayton recalls, “I saw white people running all through the black area. There was even one white boy with a machete . . . hunting for him.” When they found him hiding in his girl friend’s apartment, he and some of the other residents were attacked by the police and the mob. Then the police called the undertaker to pick him up. Instead of permitting the mortician to take the body, the mob locked him in the stockade and took his hearse. Members of the mob took the dying man to the heart of area that is now Jordan Park for display. Mr. Clayton says his body remained on that lawn all day and was not removed until 11 o’clock that night. “We were looking right down on it,” he recounts.
Despite the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, Mr. Clayton holds his friend in high regard because he fought a system that did not respect colored people. Disheartened, he explains that one of Honey Babe’s friends told the police about his whereabouts. One clearly hears a sense of betrayal in Mr. Clayton’s voice.
Despite the presence of obvious institutional racism, Mr. Clayton believes that when he was a youngster “white and black people got along better than a lot of people thought they did.” For example, at age 9 he lived with a Ms. Cooper and served as her butler. He discusses his bond with her.
She bought me knickerbockers pants, black socks and shoes and told me so keep those shoes shined . . . I would answer the door bell, page the person who was coming in, help her clean up and wash the dishes. . . . She sent me home every night carrying a big old pan with everything they cooked and was left over. She gave me a dollar a week and ten cent every Saturday to go see a movie. A dollar was big money at that time (1922). I hated to leave her. She treated me so nice.
Strategies For Managing Racism
“Blacks who stood up for something and did not let white people run over them, got along well with whites,” he believes. This principle guided his actions when his salary was short-changed while working at Drew Field, currently the site of Tampa International Airport. He was employed as a skilled pipe-layer during World War II. The owner’s son-in-law accused him of mislaying a pipe and therefore paid him as a laborer. He went in the office and confronted the timekeeper. Although he was told to get out, he refused to leave. He recounts, “I stood right there in that office until they paid off all of the men. It was hundreds of them …. I used to be very stubborn, if you got me wrong … ” It did not matter to him that they did not allow Negroes in the office. With the aid of his friend and supervisor, Craig, a white man, he was eventually able to prove that he was correct. That day he went to purchase a new car, therefore, he was not at work. Despite verification, the son-in-law refused to pay him the amount owed. The owner eventually intervened and resolved the differences. His employer had learned to respect black men, after being hit in the face with a shovel by a black man, explains Mr. Clayton. He wore a “big scar on his face.” He reports that he is like his daddy — not afraid to take a position.
He proudly reminisces that when the company’s contract ended, the owner asked him to go Texas to help build another base. He recalls, “I did good work and it pleased him But I couldn’t go because I had a young family and I wanted to stay with my wife.” When the owner suggested that he would make arrangements for his family to accompany him, Mr. Clayton responded, “I can’t leave my business.” Being a business owner allowed him various options. He infers, “I wasn’t begging him.”
Making My Own Way
Becoming an entrepreneur was his shield against racism. “After my first jobs, it made me make my own jobs,” recalls, Mr. Clayton. “I went into building businesses.” By 1938 just before World War II, at age 27, he purchased his first grocery store. It was formerly owned by his wife’s “grand daddy.” By 1944, he had bought the entire corner of Fairfield Avenue and Twenty-First Street where his store stood. “On that property, I had a three-room house, a two-bedroom house, my own house that was a big two-story home and the storefront. The storefront had two apartments upstairs and a garage that had enough room for my two cars and boat and my storeroom for my store,” he remembers. Real estate in the Tampa Bay area and other parts of Florida were also among his assets.
In 1958, Mr. Clayton became semi-retired and sold his business. However by 1960 he had to develop another enterprise in order to maintain his dignity. He was one of two blacks who were hired by a large grocery franchise. He assisted in setting up the store. The store manager promised to employ him as manager of the produce department. “When the position came open, they gave it to a white . . . Because I was a black, they didn’t want to give me the position,” determines Mr. Clayton. With twenty one years of experience as a grocer, he was assigned custodial chores. Although, he cleaned the ladies’ toilets, wiped down the meat cases and kept the store clean, he was “just piddling around.” Angered by the conditions of his employment, he quit during a Christmas after working there for two years. To restore a sense of accomplishment and security, he returned to that which he knew — being his own boss. He bought a cab from a late friend’s widow.
Where There Is A Will, There Is Way
He attributes his accomplishments to skillful planning and resourcefulness. Prior to buying his first piece of property, Mr. Clayton’s salary ranged from $14.00 to $18.00 a week. He had no money before buying his store. “We budgeted …. I could tell you what I was going to eat next Tuesday or Wednesday,” he explains. However, his account of every penny, did not mean poor quality. Mr. Clayton says, “I never bought nothing cheap . . . because quality lasts.” To prove his maxim, he notes that he has shoes that he purchased when he married 58 years ago. Maintaining a vegetable garden also helped to stretch his dollars. In addition, he found innovative ways to make money. He recalls that while working at the Jungle Golf Course, which is now Admiral Farragut Academy, he retrieved golf balls from rough palmettos and ponds to make extra money. “Selling golf balls to the golfers brought good money.” He excitedly tells how he saved $60.00 and bought his three-year old son an electric train set for a Christmas present.
He acknowledges that his wife worked with him to support their family. She operated the store while he worked other jobs. For years they followed a routine that required him to open the store at 6 o’clock and go to work at 7 o’clock. While he was in the store, his wife would ready their children and send them off to school. From seven o’clock, until he returned from work in the evening around eight o’clock, she managed the store. With his wife’s help he was able to work other jobs and “to make and save money.”
Being adventurous allowed Mr. Clayton to create other financial opportunities. For example, to get an essential job during World War II, he used wit and verve to convince a timekeeper at MacDill Air Base to hire him and his friends as skilled pipe layers, even though only one of them had ever laid a pipe. While on his unpaid vacation from his job at Weavers’ grocery store, a friend told him that MacDill Field was hiring people. The United States had just entered World War II and they were building barracks and putting in sanitation systems. Approximately 500 people a day were being employed, he estimates. He organized five friends who “hung around” his store into a work crew and drove to MacDill in his 1934 Chevy. They presented themselves as skilled pipe layers, although their knowledge was limited to what they had gained through their friend’s brief lesson.
Skilled or not, one had to be ingenious to get into the gate. Mr. Clayton recalls, “it must have been 500 whites and 300 blacks outside of the fence. Plus a badge was needed to get in past the guard. He says, as God would have it, a friend came out of the gate complaining that he was not going to work in a ditch for no one and asked if anyone wanted his badge. “Of all those people there, nobody said anything.” Mr. Clayton quickly jumped at the opportunity said, “give it to me!”
Mr. Clayton reminisces, “I took that badge and went to the guard and then walked all around the field. As I went by a big pipe company, a man called out, ‘hey mister you looking for work.’ Mr. Clayton remembers that such greeting was unusual. He explains the only time whites called blacks “mister” was when they were trying to sell them insurance policies. Anyway, he answered, “Yeah, how much?” The employer ask him, “What can you do?” Without hesitation, he responded, “I am a pipe layer by trade.” Remembering his friend’s lessons, he answered, “I have three top men and three bottom men.”
While inside the gate, he noticed another friend from his neighborhood working in a nearby ditch. He called out to him, “let me get down in the bottom a little bit with you.” But he was jokingly told by his friend to go back to his store. Mr. Clayton says, “I stayed there watching him work until I got it.” Then he returned to the timekeeper and got enough buttons to bring in his other friends. They were all employed that day and paid $75.00 a week. That was a significant jump from $18.00 a week he was earning. He worked there for a year and a half, until the job was completed. He says, “They never had to go over none of my work.”
Business Is A Family Legacy
Mr. Clayton’s drive to be independent was also influenced by his family. His mother and grandmothers were seamstresses. They sewed all the clothes the family wore except for the shirts. His grandmother was also a midwife. “She brought as many White babies in as she did black babies. The black people could hardly get her because she was always busy with the white people. She made all kinds of money.” An aunt who is 100 years old taught at the University of Pennsylvania until she retired. His older brother Joseph who refused to work on the farm, started a dry cleaning business and owned two barber shops. His father was a self-employed as a farmer and a carpenter. Even Mr. Clayton started a shoe shine business in his brother’s barber shop when he was twelve years old. Within a couple of years, he saved a thousand dollars from shining shoes. Continuing a family legacy of self-sufficiency, he ensured that he was never fired but had the freedom to quit a job if the conditions were not favorable.
To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected
He was also able to influence many young people. As a taxi driver, he often transported students to and from school. He recalls, “I saw these children’s report card before their parents did…. I would talk with them about keeping their grades up.” He rewarded their successes and encouraged them when they did not achieve. Frequently, he encounters parents who give reports of their adult children’s successes. He tells of a recent report from one of his rider’s mother. He describes the young lady as a straight “A” student at Gibbs who now has a college degree and works for the state of Florida in Tallahassee. He was able to inspire many young people and serve the community as well as provide an income for his family.
Not All Change Brings Good News
Mr. Clayton mourns the loss of the era prior to desegregation of the Black community. It was a time when its members were not as stratified by education and class and had its own distinct institutions and social life. Despite his lack of formal education, he socialized and hunted with the doctors. By the some token, he had friends whose enterprising ways were not always sanctioned in the church.
Mr. Clayton concludes, “Blacks lived better during segregation.” He bases his conclusions on the social activities and club events that occurred in the community. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Noble Sissle, and Count Basie all performed in the Negro community during that era. “It was time when Negro women wore mink coats and gowns and men dressed in tuxedos and danced in the ballrooms of the Elk Club, Joyland, and the Manhattan Casino. “Now everything is all nailed-up.”
Not only are buildings boarded up, but people like Mr. Clayton without formal schooling are excluded from the remaining clubs and activities. Fraternities, and sororities are among the few groups that survived desegregation. “These organizations are not as strong as they once were….,” he judges by the number of scholarships they now award. Furthermore, he determines that they are open only to people who have a college degree. He recalls that he once sat on Boards of the YMCA and YWCA with doctors. His skills as a businessman, and his distinguished persona were sufficient to allow him to participate in such decision making bodies. A college degree is now a criterion for access to that which remains as “black society.” Besides, the advent of desegregation led to the closing of the Negro YWCA and YMCA.
“I have seen lot of changes,” explains Mr. Clayton. However, he is baffled about the condition of young boys. He thinks desegregation created their problems. He reasons:
A lot of our boys going to school got messed up with that marijuana. Who brought that marijuana to the schools? Those boys off the beach, the rich people. How many black people in that business have connection with the big boys? They are on the front end of it. They are ones who use it and are being raped by it. The boys had to start stealing and robbing to feed their habit. That is one thing that I noticed.
The rapidly changing conditions in the community placed Mr. Clayton’s life in harms’ way. In 1974, his neighborhood was targeted for demolition to make way for Interstate 275. His neighbors agreed to the initial offer made by the State Department of Transportation (DOT) and moved out. He suggests that the DOT practically took the black people’s property. Unwilling to give his home away, he sued for fair compensation for his property. Prolonged litigation left his home surrounded by other abandoned homes which were targeted by thieves for copper. After returning home from church one evening, two men robbed them. The gunmen tied-up him and his wife, took their keys and car, tore the phone out of the wall, and threatened to kill them if they called the police. Mr. Clayton managed to free himself and ran to a neighbor’s house to call his friends at the taxi company where he worked. Over 15 taxi drivers and the police responded to his mayday call. This incident caused him to move to a middle-class suburban neighborhood.
He finally settled with the Department of Transportation, “but they didn’t pay nothing for it (his home), although it had nice features and was well built.” He complains that he should have received seven times as much money. In the end, he also lost several rental properties.
God Is Good To Me
Despite these losses, he proposes, “The Lord took care of me and enabled me to help a lot of people.” Mr. Clayton believes that he was destined to become a Seventh Day Adventist. He recalls at a very early age asking his father why the family when to church on the first day of the week instead of the seventh. His father did not give him a satisfactory answer. He however believed that it was wrong not to go to church on the day that God had required people to rest and keep the Sabbath. Through his wife’s family he found the Seventh Day Adventists and answers to questions he had pondered since childhood. However, several years passed before he joined the church. Although he asserts, “When I kept my first Sabbath, I was the happiest person in the world.” Now he teaches a Sabbath school class. He measures his temporal successes by the spiritual mercy which has been given to him.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUED. . .
The Life Of Mrs. Louise Macon
My name is Louise Macon. I was born in a little town in the northwest part of Florida in Gadsen County, in Qunicy, the county seat. It was known for its long leaf tobacco. Primarily the mode of existence was farming and raising tobacco. Tobacco was the main survival. There were few Blacks who owned businesses. However there were many who lived on the farms.
I do not know much about Qunicy because I left there when I was quite a young lady and went to Baldwin Haven school in Jacksonville in the fifth grade. I returned home two summers after that. I left Baldwin Haven after finishing eighth grade. In 1930, St. Petersburg became home for me. i came here with my parents. This was their winter headquarters.
I began Gibbs, the first black high school that St. Petersburg had for Negroes, in the second semester of 1930. I completed the eleventh grade, married, and became a wife to Dotry Macon. Not because I was a mother but because I wanted to.
Life has been very good to me as a black. I never had any problems as far as segregation is concerned.
One may ask, how is it possible for an African American woman born and raised in segregated South to have a good life. When the complexities of Mrs. Macon’s life are examined, one finds a self assured independently thinking woman whose intelligence, creativity and a sense of belonging opened doors for her while they remained closed to many other Negroes. Although, she disapproves of the practice, she acknowledges that the doors of opportunities were cracked for her because of her fair skinned complexion.
Mrs. Macon is highly respected in St. Petersburg. On several occasions other informants suggested that I interview her. She is esteemed because she transcended racial boundaries. Her skills as an effective organizer of many social events which are sponsored by the Federation of Women clubs also bring her recognition. Almost simultaneously while discussing her intellect, and social events, people mention her meticulous and fashionable persona. Also, Mrs. Macon is admired because she was one of the few home owners who successfully challenged the city when they offered to buy her home for the Florida Suncoast Dome parking lot. Mrs. Macon is a symbol of a woman who does not bow.
Her approach toward life perhaps, was influenced by her mother. She describes her mother as follows:
She was sort of independent, well groomed and only retired at age 79. She wasn’t book learned but was a person of mother-wit, common knowledge and l.Q. Remembrance was no problem. Everybody respected Mrs. Annie Woods. They called her Mrs. A. W.
Mrs. Macon was raised in a somewhat middle-class home. Although her parents were not formally educated, their jobs were positions of status in the Negro community during the segregation. Her mother worked for several years as a parlor maid at the Soreno Hotel and a maid for the hired help of the Vinoy Hotel. Her father was second head bellman for the Soreno Hotel. He supervised a crew of bellmen. “That was a sort of gracious living,” explains Mrs. Macon. “Working in the hotel was better than doing menial labor, cleaning house and keeping the whites’ children,” she explains. “Their salaries were small but their tips gave them very good incomes. Caucasians lived in a different style than they do now. Most of the guests were Northerners who believed in graciously tipping.” Therefore, her parents could afford to send her to a private boarding school during her junior high years.
To appreciate Mrs. Macon’s ability to find meaning and purpose in her life despite race, one should understand the community in which she was reared. She became a woman during a time when the division of labor between Negroes and whites was sharply drawn. “Our young men worked as busboys and carried the trays for whites. The girls were the coffee and tea pourers and they relied on tips as their salaries. A uniform was a passport into downtown for African Americans. “Without your uniform on, you (Negroes) mostly entered all back doors.” With a uniform it was assumed that Negroes were either somebody’s personal maid or one of the employees. African American women were not permitted to try on clothes and they were required to cover their heads with little caps before placing a hat on their heads. “Blacks just did not go into independent stores. We knew where we were wanted and where we would get our feelings hurt by being ignored or telling you to get out . . . . “Blacks did not go into restaurants and bars unless they worked there,” she reminisces.
To counter these insults and to gain control over their lives, blacks had their own commercial districts. “We had Second Avenue, South.” Doctors Leggett and Ponder located their offices there. Restaurants, the Elks club, pool rooms, grocery stores, beauty parlors, barber shops, pressing clubs and churches could be found along that avenue. However, “Twenty-Second Avenue was our main black avenue. When blacks got dressed, they would promenade down the street.” She believes that until integration and the riots, blacks were proud of their heritage.
She recalls Sunday-night concerts of Methodist songs and Negro spirituals held at McCabe Methodist church during the thirties. Attending these concerts meant that one had to arrive early to get a place in the church’s four hundred-seat auditorium. The church was often filled to capacity, suggests Mrs. Macon. McCabe became a tourist mecca. It was not unusual for $600 to be raised during each event. “These were beautiful concerts,” she remembers.
Protected by the gracious lifestyle of her family, educated in private schools and nurtured in a segregated black community, Mrs. Macon uncompromisingly entered the white world of St. Petersburg. When she began her first job in 1954 at the Ponce DeLeon Hotel she assisted in readying the hotel for its winter residents. This job included cleaning windows and lattice doors. When that job was completed the housekeeper instructed her and the rest of the cleaning crew that they would also clean rugs. “I knew that was not my cup of tea,” says Mrs. Macon. She told the housekeeper, ‘I would like to give my best in whatever I do but this is not for me.’ That day she was given a task of ironing silk draperies. The next day the housekeeper told her, ‘I have a job for you. I see that you are above this.’ She was asked to become the maid for the owner of one of the most fashionable shops in St. Petersburg. As an aside, she says to me, “I never scrubbed floors and I don’t intend to start.”
Mrs. Macon’s sense of self and a keen intellect have help to create opportunities. After working for John Baldwin for two years as a maid, she became the store’s stock clerk. She recounts the situation leading to her new status as follows:
I would always hang around the stock room with Reba Pier. One day she and Mr. Baldwin didn’t see eye to eye and she quit. Having hung around in the stock room, I knew the code and keystoning, which is doubling the prices and omitting fifty cents or seventy-five cents.
Being in a predicament, the owner said, “‘Louise, I see that you are quite interested in the stock room. Do you think you can handle it?’ She told him, ‘I believe that I can.’ I remained there 8 years, with quite a bit of respect. . . This was before integration,” she recollects.
“It is strange how things can change for you,” she muses. Not only did she become a stock clerk despite the racial customs of that era, she also became an effective salesperson in the business. She recalls that the store traditionally had an annual sale. A twenty- dollar-bonus would be awarded the person with the highest amount of sales and ten dollars were given to the sales person who sold the most pieces. “So the first day of our annual sale, I walked away with both prizes,” she reveals. Again, she impresses on me that was long before integration. She infers that Mr. Baldwin apologetically told the other salespersons, ‘I can’t help it; Louise has taken both.’
Mrs. Macon attributes her success to knowing the stock, and telephoning hotel customers and encouraging them to buy their Christmas gifts during the sale. Also, having detailed knowledge of the stock permitted her to make informed suggestions to the customers.
She cautions me not to assume that her pioneering days at Baldwin occurred because she was any better than other black women. She explains,
I tell you there were girls who qualified for better jobs. It is sad to say how Whites once looked at color and the texture of hair and decided who they wanted. Other girls were hired and they had the knowledge but they never made it to the front. That is true. I think for a long time that is what happened in my case at Baldwin’s. I was one of the few who did not suffer as much as some.
Her presence did not change his policies toward black customers. She recalls that black women traditionally, had to enter the store either before it officially opened in the mornings or after it closed in the evenings. Despite her respected status, she saw wealthy black women who were married to doctors and other professionals treated as second-class citizens in that store. For example, she remembers in 1955, the highest paid woman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States came to the store and purchased a dress for a trip to Europe. She paid $125.00 for the dress, but she was not permitted to try it on. It was well into the eighties before Baldwin really opened its doors to African Americans. Mrs. Macon explains, “He saw that their (blacks) dollars too, did not go to bank porters . . . He was not going to let the mighty dollar pass him by.”
She also recognizes that her skills were valuable to Baldwin. “Once whites see that you are an asset rather than a liability, they are willing to change the rules,” she suggests. She was not trapped in an illusion that everything was fine because she was treated fairly. She was the only black to work for Baldwin as a salesperson until the 1980s. When the store closed in 1992, she remained one of two African Americans sales persons who ever worked at Baldwin’s. Such glaring statistics led Mrs. Macon to conclude that a need for her abilities led to her opportunities at Baldwin’s.
When faced with a family crisis, she discovered how much Mr. Baldwin were concerned about her interests. She recounts after her husband died in January, her oldest daughter became terminally ill. In March, she went to Mr. Baldwin and explained that she was going take time off to care for her daughter. He responded, ‘Can you afford to?’ She indignantly told him, ‘Afford to? It is what I want to do. Whether I can afford it, I will do it. No one who wants to eat starves. I have never seen anyone starve.’ “I said, ‘I am sorry but this is the way it is.’ I took off . . . and I never returned. Of course that hit him hard because he was losing a stock clerk.” Within four months her husband and her thirty yearold daughter who was a mother of four children, had died. She also had shown the ‘Prince of Fashion’ that her responsibilities to her family were paramount.
After taking a year off, she returned to retailing. She worked at various other fashionable dress shops. Again, she refused to stay in the station that had been prescribed by the racial customs. She worked for Florence Jones’ dress shop. Although, Jones employed six blacks, they all worked in the stock room. Mrs. Macon worked as a stock clerk. However, while there she found creative ways to apply her knowledge and to move to the front of the store. She recollects, “that store had a girl who for thirty years did the shop-window displays. However, “she never coordinated things.” For example, she did not show how a suit could be worn with a variety of blouses, assesses Mrs. Macon. Therefore, she suggested ideas to the owner about the display windows.
Initially, the owner permitted her to arrange the display two or three times. “They got so much rave about the window until I became the window decorator.” Ten dollars more was added to my weekly salary,” beams Mrs. Macon. Throughout her twelve years at the shop, she recommended other ways to improve the services to the shop’s clientele. “Totally, all over, I was sort of an asset to her She treated us all as human beings,” recalled Mrs Macon.
Although, Mrs. Macon retired, her self-assured and assertive approach has continued in her relationship with the city of St. Petersburg. She has challenged its planners not to type cast her world and define her mace in it. As always, she determines her needs.
The city of St. Petersburg planned to relocate Mrs. Macon and her neighbors in order to expand parking spaces for the Florida Suncoast Dome. Although a home owner and taxpayer in the city of St. Petersburg for more than forty years, she was not aware that her home was slated for demolition until the Laurel Park housing complex was sold, she disclosed. “I first knew that I was going to be dislocated . . . when we were notified by letter,” she describes. The city informed her and her neighbors that they were going to acquire their properties. “We had no choice; they just said you have to move,” reported Mrs. Macon. Then they offered to pay her $39,000 for her home of 34 years that included four bedrooms, two baths, and a two story apartment in the back.
“I am the one person who fought against their bids,” she remarks. The city proposed to pay her $48,000 for her land. She refused. The city later suggested $55,000. Again she felt that they did not offer her a fair price for her homes. She told Elijah Gosier, a newspaper reporter, “The city did me a grave injustice when they put Interstate -275 in.” Gosier (1990:3) writes, “The highway construction closed an alley behind her property, making it accessible only by a circuitous route.” Closing that alley reduced her rental income from the apartment behind her house. The garage was made useless, therefore she had to lower rent. She lost approximately $5,000 in lost rental income over the past years (Gosier 1990:3). Given this historical experience, she was not willing to compromise and allow the city to take her land without adequately compensation. After the article appeared Mrs. Macon and the city negotiated a sum that she could accept.
Mrs. Macon suggested that city is disrupting her life. She described her home as livable and filled with all the conveniences that she needs. Fifteen years ago, she paid off her mortgage. Therefore, her monthly expenses are her utilities. She reminded me, “When you are 77 you don’t need to think of the upkeep of a place . . . I feel secure where I am, only because I have lived here. “We (speaking of her neighbors) have a habit of calling each other every day. “But it is a sad plight when you think of breaking up housekeeping,” she concluded.
Mrs. Macon views the acquisition of her property by the city is part of a long term plan by the city. She traces historical evidence for her assessments. The city forced her church, McCabe Methodist, to move from Ninth Street, and Second Avenue, South, she informs me. “Right on the corner, there was Davis Elementary school, our church and a store front.” Behind the church there were a few private homes. The city wanted to purchase the land to build Graham Park, an apartment complex for senior citizens. To pressure the church to relocate, the city banned parking on Ninth Street and restricted the church parking to two blocks during funerals, believes Mrs. Macon. She suggested that the relocation of the Gas Plant, the deterioration of the Laurel Park, splitting of the black community with the interstate reveal a scheme to remove blacks from the downtown area. However, she acknowledged that many people who relocated from Gas Plant benefitted. She also recalled that many inhabitants of the beautiful homes destroyed by the Interstate, were likely to have remained in the community. Instead they relocated to the suburbs to find comparable homes after theirs were demolished.
“So much beauty of the black community was destroyed,” laments Mrs. Macon. “We (the black community) have nothing. I have been here 61 years, she said. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the only thing that blacks have fought to protect she determines. First Institutional Baptist church was one of the structures that should have been saved she avers. It was known for its architectural design and uniqueness. It was called the Shell Dash church because it was built with sea shells by Mr. Calhoun, a black contractor. “Blacks have not really protested hard enough. We do a lot of talking. They (the city) destroy what they want,” concludes Mrs. Macon.
Mrs. Macon faces life with an appreciation of her place in the universe. She reasons that it is not subordinate to the customs of race and power. However, she realizes that her life has been a little more protected than the average African American because of the peculiar circumstances of race. Yet she is aware of the force of race in her collective life as a black person. Therefore, when she acknowledges that “life had been good to me as a black,” her statement implies that a double standard exists.
March 30, 1993, the city of St. Petersburg demolished Mrs. Macon’s home. Thirty-seven years of memories of a family and a neighborhood were reduced to rubble within a matter of hours. At age eighty, she was driven from the home where she and her husband had raised their five children to make way for a parking lot for sports fans.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUED. . .
Deacon Clinton C. Falana
I am Deacon Clinton C. Falana of First Institutional Baptist Church. I was born near Ocala in Flimington, Florida on a farm. I left there when I was around 8 years old. I came to St. Pete in 1932. I lived with my sister, Sallie Mae for a little better life, because out in the country there wasn’t a whole lot. My mother and father stayed there. It was nine of us. I went to Davis School, where Graham Park Apartments are now. I went to Jordan Park a little bit, then I went to Gibbs High School. I joined First Baptist Institutional Church under Pastor R. A. Crumwell when it was down where Webb City was located. Now the AAA (American Automobile Association) is there. My sister was a member of that church. It was in the family.
Deacon Falana, as he is affectionately known among many in St. Petersburg, is considered an unofficial historian and archivist of African American history. Most information is simultaneously filed in his memory bank as well as in his trunk. Newspaper clippings often substantiate his recollections. For example, once the St. Petersburg Times mistakenly reported that the first woman principal at Gibbs was a recent phenomenon. He wrote the editor and informed the newspaper that an African American female had achieved such distinction years ago. Deacon Falana was one of the key organizers of the Methodist Town reunion. It was an event designed to bring together former Methodist Town neighbors who were primarily dislocated by redevelopment. One could easily imagine Deacon Falana as curator of a museum or a history teacher. In another sense he is. He is a oral historian of the local history.
Instead of becoming a mortician that he dreamed, he distinguished himself as the first African American to drive a city bus in St. Petersburg. In 1964, he embarked on a service that would bring him many rewards as a safe and courteous driver for more than twenty-five years. Even after he officially retired, his former employers asked him to return and drive the Tampa-St. Petersburg route during the mornings.
One of the most popular uses of life history is to investigate how the sociocultural system affects the individual’s role behavior, self-concept, and values (Watson and Watson-Franke 1985:135). When examining Deacon Falana’s life story, two themes dominate. He is active in his church and community. His religion is not presented as a medal of valor but as a heart that’s kind and considerate. For example, during holidays he and his wife prepare an enormous meal and invite to their home community members who would otherwise be alone. “One year we had 114 people, 8 were blind, 4 were in wheel chairs, and 35 or more were above 60 or 70 years of age,” Deacon Falana recounts. His sense of humor, an integral part of his persona, puts people at ease. He has never drank or smoked. His life is also undergirded by a strong commitment to work as symbol of personal integrity. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of Deacon Falana’s life history is that he does not explicitly discuss racism. While it is implicit in his description of African American life in St. Petersburg, he instead focuses on their accomplishments and interpersonal relationships. His conversations chronicle a life that is predominantly African American.
Deacon Falana was raised in Methodist Town. He describes it as a place where everything went on and people were “close.” For example, he remembers Mr. Simon Mathis, a furniture store owner allowing him to have a dresser when he could not afford to pay the ten dollars that it cost. ‘He told me not to worry but to pay when I got it,’ he explains. “In the early days particular in the era of the 1920s through the 1940s Methodist Town produced a number of energetic and dedicated businesses and professional people We had sixty businesses at that time,” Deacon Falana asserts. He lists those businesses:
Idella Williamson had one of the first nursing home. Jesse Abrams who now owns a business on Thirty-First street. Primus Butler has a shoe shop at Jackson Street and Third Avenue. J. P. Moses had a dry cleaning on the corner of Jackson and Fourth. My sister opened her first grocery store next to McCoy’s filling station. All of these are black owned. That is the kind of business skills they had.
After identifying some of the major entrepreneurs, he recalls other significant persons in his neighborhood. He reminisces that Mrs. Edna Dunn taught piano lessons and played music at his church for 77 years. Summers at South Mole, now known as Demen’s Landing are remembered. “That is where we had to swim. You couldn’t swim across at Spa Beach (designated white only). His neighborhood included more than seven churches. Bethel A.M.E. often referred to as Mother Bethel has existed there since 1896.
This sense of community extended to the school. Describing his Gibbs High school experience, he defines his days there as filled with love. “The teachers took pains with the children,” he suggests. He explains how an ‘I doesn’t know,’ response to his biology teacher brought a lesson about the verb “does” that he will never forget.
Deacon Falana recalls the physical structure of the school as small and the county’s support as being inadequate. While attending school there, the county did not furnish buses. To provide transportation for its students the African American community had to purchase the school’s first three buses. A ten-cent ticket entitled a child to a round trip on these recycled Florida Motor Line buses. The Gibbs High community renamed these buses the Blue Goose(s) and used various senior males to drive them after many of the other bus drivers were drafted into World War II. Deacon Falana was one of the students.
Like the senior school bus drivers before him, he was also drafted into the army. The day after he graduated from high school he had to report to the draft board. He remembers leaving his mother on the front porch crying. However, when he reported the Board told him that his unit’s departure had been delayed until August, 1944. When he returned home that morning, he found his mother still sitting on the porch sobbing.
He served for two years in Europe, the Pacific and the United States with the Ninety-Second Division. His travels included Rome, Justinberg, Missouri, and San Antonio, Texas.
He is asked, “Did black people ever have any question about going into the armed forces?” “Not that I know of. Black people have always been very loyal to the United States. They thought it was a patriotic duty. But the older parents always thought that surely their children would not come back home. During World War I so many were lost,” he explains.
I came back April 4, 1946 and started to serve my apprenticeship with McRae Funeral Home. I graduated from New York School of Embalming in 1948,1 took the State Boards in 1950. I made a 91 on the orals. When I did not pass, l left there and went to General Material Concrete. I started hauling 500 bags of cement from Tampa a day. The fellahs said that I wouldn’t stay two weeks. I stayed fourteen years. I mixed most of the concrete for the first Skyway Bridge. That was built in 1953 and 54 and it opened in 54. Before the bridge there were three ferries that would take you to Manatee County.
He left General Material Concrete after the manager of Central Life Insurance told him that insurance would be a better job for him. He decided rather than just quit, he would write a letter of resignation. His brother suggested that it was a ridiculous notion because he “only had a truck driving job.” Deacon Falana argued that he carried out his plan because he may have needed this job again one day. He recounts, “I hen- pecked out on the typewriter at the funeral home that night and made carbon copies and sent them to manager and director. He recalls, I told them:
Dear Sir: For the past few months because of rising living conditions, I have had to work three jobs to provide for my family. Therefore, I am trying to better my conditions. I have been offered a position, that I truly believe and hope will increase my finances and status. I, Clinton C. Falana wish to terminate my services as of Friday evening, August 16, 1963. If I can be any help to you at any time please feel free to call on me. For the past 13 years that I have been with the company, I have tried to do my best and trust that my services have been satisfactory. If I am not asking too much, I would like a letter of recommendation for future use. I shall remember you in my prayers for I always pray for everyone. Prayerfully submitted, Yours in Christ, Clinton C. Falana.
Although this event took place almost thirty years ago, he still gets emotional when telling this story. He says his employers were pleased and admired his responsible action. They suggested to him that most people curse their boss before they leave, get mad and quit. His behavior led them to suggest that he could return to them whenever he desired.
After selling insurance for a few months, he was delighted to have written the letter of resignation. His insurance income was not as much as he anticipated. Plus, he discovered that his personality did not match the insurance business. He explains, “At the first of the month everybody paid their insurance for the month. I would collect $500.00 and I made $100.00 because we would get only twenty cents out of every dollar.” The rest of the month he would make approximately twenty-five or twenty-six dollars. Without hesitation he returned to his former job. He concludes, “I didn’t like insurance too much.”
He stayed on that job for one year but continued to look for another job. He recalls sitting in his truck having lunch, a common practice he explains. “I never was around people where they were saying bad things . . . and causing trouble.” One day he read a newspaper article reporting that Dr. Leggett had arranged with the city for African Americans to take the examinations to drive city buses. He asserts that the Lord worked it out so that he was off from work the rest of the afternoon. Therefore, he went to City Hall and filed an application. The next night he took the examination. He passed the test and was hired along with five whites, he recounts. Therefore in the early part of 1965, he made history in St. Petersburg. However, his intent was merely to find a way to better support his family.
He infers that until 1968, when the Sanitation Strike occurred, bus drivers often worked long hours without benefits. For example, he remembers working 96 hours a week without time and half pay. He only made $1.60 an hour. He credits Don McRae, Judge Sanderlin and Joseph Waller with helping to improve the conditions, which he describes as “kinda bad.”
Driving the bus not only eventually enabled him to better support his family but also led to for meeting his wife. Deacon Falana is married to Lillie Falana who moved to St. Petersburg in 1956 from Georgia. She is one of thirteen children and came here to help support her family financially who remained in Georgia. Deacon Falana describes their courtship as a wonderful story and instructs his wife to tell me the details. She says,
He was driving a bus and I was working. I was getting off at 3 o’clock. I would always get his bus every day. I was single and had been single for some time because I said i would never get married again. At first I could not stand him. Everyday I would catch this bus and we would always speak when I would get on and we just started talking. He asked me if he could take me out to dinner and I said well, I will think about it. Finally, I said yes. Then in 1969, he asked me to marry.
Deacon Falana interjects, “I like to eat.” He explains that she would come to the bus stop near her home and ask him if he had eaten. He says he would always tell her, ‘Yes, I had a little.’ “By the time I got back, she would have me a big steak sandwich. She won me through my stomach and she is still keeping me through my stomach. You see it is still here,” jokingly he explains the relationship.
Together, they have five children. Mrs. Falana is the step-mother to four of the children. She married Deacon Falana seven years after the death of his first wife. In the interim, he raised his three daughters and son alone.
Deacon Falana perceives himself as a strict disciplinarian. He recalls an instance in which his son’s teacher sent a note home that he was often clowning in the classroom. He addressed the problem in this manner. He went to the school to observe his son’s behavior. He suggests that he found his son clowning and making the children laugh. “I walked inside and put my hand on his (son’s) shoulder and walked up to the front of the classroom, I took off my belt.” In front of 29 children he punished his son. He told the teacher that the principal had given him permission. The principal later informed him that his approach had resolved the problem. Deacon Falana says his son who is a sergeant in the service, recently wrote that he often did not understand the reasons for his punishment. But having matured with love, he realizes that it was for the best. Deacon Falana notes that his son included fifty dollars in the letter. Deacon Falana feels vindicated.
He considers all of his children successful. Clementine has worked for a major grocer for 25 years. Cynthia has been employed in the cable television industry for 17 years. Before that she was a manager and buyer for a major department store. Roselyn is a nurse and Carrie is a Pinellas County deputy sheriff.
Many changes have occurred since he moved to St. Petersburg. However, Deacon Falana has consistently demonstrated a Christian life, maintained pride in his work and shown a capacity to humor others. His character has won him awards in his work and respect in his community and family.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUED. . .
Nurse Marie Yopp
The money is such a temptation. They (parents) take the money and the next thing they know they have a dead son. Money is everything. Do you know it is a dangerous thing? . . . Boys drop out. . .
Mrs. Yopp is concerned about the changes that have occurred in her community. She suggests that during the past ten year drugs have gotten out of hand. One block of her street has been taken over by drug marketers. Money has been the driving motive for the destruction of the community and the lives of young men and the broken hearts of their mothers, she concludes.
Mrs. Yopp believes that education is the way to improve one’s life. Plus, she considers a lack of money is an insufficient reason not to get an education. However, she understands a legacy of oppression contributes to many of problems African Americans confront. “We can’t get rid of what happened to us in slavery. Our fathers went through it and we still go through it,” she surmises. Given the complexities of African American life and her personal philosophies, she chose nursing as a means to serve and educate her community for more than twenty five years. Without significant financial resources but with the assistance of teachers, community people, and a network of their friends, she received a nursing education. However, the path to community service was not without its hardships in a segregated world. Nevertheless, her education not only improved her life but also the lives of other African Americans.
A Desire To Serve Nurtured By A Community
“I always just loved people period,” explains Mrs. Yopp. This love was nurtured by her teachers. Her interest in music and learning attracted her first grade teacher and her sister. She recalls, “I used to sing . . .and play the piano. My mother loved music.” The sisters encouraged her to become a musician. Although, they had a certain vision for her, they remained steadfast in their support of her when she decided to become a nurse instead of a musician.
I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. After I finished high school, . . . my mother did not have the money but we had help. My first grade teacher and her sister. . . knew Dr. Anderson . . . who was a good friend to President Lee at Florida A and M University. Your parents had to get your books…. But we didn’t pay the regular fees like the other students paid.
Good Will And Intent Challenged By Segregation
Despite the goodwill and intent of her teachers, at the end of three years of nursing school, she and her mother discovered that the school was not accredited. This situation meant that she could not take the Florida Nursing Board examination. Primarily because she did not have enough contact hours in obstetrics and pediatrics.
Florida A and M did not have many women delivering their babies at the hospital, she explains. During the middle part of this century, African American women in Tallahassee, where she attended school, were assisted by midwives at home. Therefore the state of Florida’s sole school for Negro nurses only qualified for surgery and general medicine. Mrs. Yopp reminds me that her nonAfrican American cohorts did not have problems receiving their certifications because “all- white” hospitals had a sufficient number of deliveries. Despite the number of hospitals in Florida which could have provided the necessary training, the custom of segregation forbade an offer of such opportunities to her. With the lobbying of a Secretary-Treasurer of the Florida State Board of Examiners, Florida A and M University Hospital arranged for her and her cohorts to go to Provident, a historically Negro hospital in Baltimore. For a year, she received training there. “I had six months in obstetrics and six month in pediatrics,” she remembers. While certifying, she became an evening supervisor. Unpretentiously, she adds that such leadership and responsibility were an accomplishment because students from John Hopkins University were among her charges.
Perhaps, one of the most fundamental things that she learned was not assessed by the Nursing Board. During this period, she learned how significant touch and emotions are to infants. “No matter how young they are, they know the difference when you pick them up by your touch,” she recalls. “Some of them used to think I was their mother. All people and animals know when warm feelings are shown through touch,” she explains. The experience of working in the nursery still amazes her. “They were so cute and so loving,” she remembers.
Life Is A Bitter Sweet Deal
Although professionally she mothered many infants, she and her husband never had children. They maintained a long distance marriage until his death recently. For example, while she was in Baltimore, her husband was stationed in Long Branch, New Jersey. They commuted between the two cities. Her husband, a native of St. Petersburg found the racial climate too repressive and intolerable to live in Florida. He vowed never to return to Florida.
However, her mother’s declining health, motivated her to come back to Florida. Mrs. Yopp suggests that her choice of taking care her of mother was further dictated by her mother’s intolerance to racism. Her mother, she suggests, was a proud woman who did not stomach the asymmetrical relationship that domestic jobs demanded. Yet, her education and racial status relegated her to that certain economic subordination. Hence, as an only child, Mrs. Yopp took in her mother and supported her. They lived together until her mother died several years later.
“It was always we — my mother and 1,” says Mrs. Yopp. She was reared by her mother on Columbus Drive in Belmont Height, a predominately African American neighborhood in Tampa. Her marriage initially brought her to St. Petersburg.
After graduating from Florida A and M University nursing school, she became a part of the St. Petersburg community. For thirteen years she and her mother lived in Jordan Park like many other professional people who had few other housing alternatives during the 1940s and 1950s. “It was community pride in Jordan Park. It was real nice.” She reminds me that St. Petersburg restricted African Americans to an area west of Fifteen Avenue, South. She also suggests that Jordan Park was a transitional stage for married couples and other families who were saving to buy homes. Mrs. Yopp followed that pattern. After living in Jordan Park for more than a decade, she bought a lot and had her home built in a new development for Negroes in 1953. Since that day, she and many of her neighbors have remained in that neighborhood.
Making A Difference
Apart from living in the community, her services became integral to the livelihood of African Americans. After passing the state boards, she became the second African American nurse employed by the Pinellas County Health Department. From 1947 until 1968 she was assigned to the public health clinic, on Twenty-Second Avenue, next door to Mercy Hospital. Until she retired, she mostly served the African American community. “We still took care of our community and they took care of their’s. It was a sort of a segregated thing,” describes Mrs. Yopp.
Most of her career was helping the indigent. She immunized babies, counselled mothers during pregnancies, provided well baby care, cared for patients with tuberculosis and supervised midwives. “Our job was to keep people well. We were preventing illness and helping people to maintain good health,” she explains. However, she is proud of her work in assisting women to become licensed practical nurses and volunteers.
Shortly after coming to St. Petersburg, the Red Cross asked if she would teach a class of about thirty women who were interested in becoming nurses’ aides. She suggests that her love for people led her to consent to train the women.
“They were taught the basics — temperature, blood pressures, giving baths and simple treatments.” That basic training was so thorough and comprehensive that the State Board of Examiners accepted it as a standard course. The state then permitted the trainees to take the state boards for licensed practical nurses. Hence, her commitment to providing quality education, led to improved economic opportunities for many African American women in St. Petersburg and empowered them to assist others. One of the women she trained still works with the Tuberculosis Association and provides clothes and food for needy people. This training continued until the desegregation of the health services in 1968. At that point, Mercy hospital closed.
During mid sixties, Mrs. Yopp also assisted the Red Cross in establishing the Grey Ladies, a volunteer service program for African American women. Their role was to help control the flow of visitors at Mercy hospital. Mrs. Yopp reminisces,
Mercy didn’t have any strict visiting hours. People would go in anytime, take food, and sit on the beds. After the Grey Ladies were formed, visiting schedules were established. They worked the desk, reminded visitors of the visiting hours, took care of flower and wrote letters. They were volunteers. You never saw such proud ladies in your life. They looked so pretty in their grey uniforms and their caps.
Integration Doesn’t Mean You
However, their dedication, abilities and good looks were not sufficient to convince then Mound Park, the present Bayfront Hospital to incorporate these women in their volunteer services. Mrs. Yopp explains that after Mercy closed there was one hospital. “The White people had their own Grey Ladies. They did not want our Grey Ladies. That was the end of that. But it lasted for four or five years,” she recalls. Not only did the closing of Mercy contribute to the demise of this volunteer institution, her training of license practical nurses was also terminated. Essentially those services that she provided through governmental agencies did not have a role and place in a desegregated system.
On Our Own, We Can Survive
Although institutional racism terminated her training program and her work with the Grey Ladies, she helped to develop other services that were not linked to predominately “white” institutions. Mrs. Yopp is one of the founders of the Gamma Omicron chapter of the iota Phi Lambda sorority. This business organization was founded by Lola M. Parker in Chicago during the Depression in 1929, to offer African American women an alternative to domestic work. Mrs. Yopp, explains that “things were pretty tough, especially for women, unless their families arranged for them to go to school and teach.” She and others assisted in organizing business schools throughout the United States. The effectiveness of the organization in the community, she suggests is shown by its ability now to attract professional women to their membership. In March 16, 1991, Mrs. Yopp was honored for her consistent work and contribution to the sorority by her sisters from the southern region and Mayor Bob Ulrich at a conference downtown at the St. Petersburg Hilton. More than two hundred people attended this conference. Mrs. Yopp has also been very instrumental in uniting African American nursing professionals. In 1945, she organized a Registered Nurse club (RN). She was motivated to initiate the club because “they (nurses) needed to meet and talk together and support each other.” The club was not a coffee klatch. The nurses actively educated the public concerning health problems and founded a scholarship fund for nursing students. For example, the members go to churches to screen people for health problems and talk to them about their diet. When necessary, people are referred for treatment. These independent organizations continue to thrive.
No One Said That The Road Would Be Easy
Mrs Yopp observes that such charitable work is not always readily accepted by African Americans. She suggests that they are often embarrassed. She summarizes the attitudes which she had to confront. “When we (African Americans) see it (free services), we say “Oh, that’s charity. I don’t want to be a part of that.” “That is our philosophy,” she observes. Despite the difficulty in educating the community, they respected her and affectionately called her “Nurse Yopp.” Such term of endearment, she suggests meant that they were proud of her educational accomplishment as a nurse.
Respect Must Be Accorded
“Nurse Yopp” used by the African American community expressed feelings of benevolence. However, out of the mouths of her nonAfrican American cohorts, such words symbolized malevolence.
They would call the white nurse, Mrs. Jones or Mrs. White. But they wanted to call me Nurse Yopp. I told my director, “Look now, I am a nurse. The rest of the ladies are nurses too but you don’t call them “nurse so and so”. So don’t call me nurse. I would prefer that you call me Marie. So that stopped that. I was the only one (African American) for a long time. I wasn’t the first one but the only one at that time. When I started in 1946, there was another black nurse. She was so anxious to get me to work with her because she felt lonely, too. You know we would go to staff meetings and we were the only blacks. They were nice and courteous but they would make little statements.
However, before retiring she supervised “a whole staff of white nurses.” Mrs. Yopp recalls that this position gave her opportunities to dispel myths and stereotypes. While supervising, she sometimes had to accompany her staff on home visits. She recalls when introduced as a supervisor, “these white people would stretch their eyes. They couldn’t believe it.” Many times they would ask if she was a teacher. “They think that only teachers are intelligent people. They were shocked when I would tell them, I am a nurse,” she explains. Preparation Is A Key To Making A Difference
Mrs. Yopp believes that African Americans are going to compete with other people. When they are prepared and produce, they can make a difference she concludes. This philosophy served her well.
Despite racial attitudes, Mrs. Yopp suggests that the health department recognized her skills. In 1958 she was encouraged to get a Master’s degree in public health nursing supervision. The County paid for her tuition, books, transportation and salary. “The health department evidently thought I was doing a pretty good job as so they invested that much money in me.”
However during that era, she had to attend a school outside of the South. Hence, she went to Columbia University in New York. Only graduate nursing programs available at that time in Florida were at predominately white institutions. The segregated educational system in 1958 did not admit African Americans to their programs.
When she returned she was appointed supervisor and served in that capacity until she retired ten years later in 1970. “Retired” means that she is not professionally employed. She is still active in her sorority and church, First Institutional Baptist (formerly known as Shell Dash Church). In the church, she is a senior deaconess.
Also she continues to educate the community, as she explains to the interviewer that drugs is public health problem. She recognizes that there are several etiologies of the drug problem in her community. Stress, tortures and the unpleasant things African Americans live with contribute to their health status, including drug abuse.
However, having lived long enough to see the changes in her community, she concludes that, “You don’t have to go downtown and buy all these expensive things to get attention and feel secure. It doesn’t take all of that.” Her life exemplifies that one can live a comfortable life when a commitment to education and service are made.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUED. . .
Emergent Themes Of African American World Views
The objective of this final section of this life history chapter is to provide an overview of persistent themes found in the lives of the five people highlighted and the other twenty-seven people interviewed. Such interpretation reveals the social context and the ways in which African Americans have attempted to adjust to their environment. Although each life is an individual portrait, there are definite consensual themes that are found repeatedly in these lives: such as the need to improve economic and educational status, development of a community, racism, pride in work, the role of Gibbs High school and the church in the community and the impact of development, desegregation and drugs on their lives.
In Search Of Equality And Opportunities
Research participants suggest that the presence of African Americans in St. Petersburg is motivated by a drive to improve their educational and economic conditions. Many of these early residents either fled exploitative jobs, share cropping or provincial farm life.
One respondent, a sixty three year-old craftsman describes his family’s situation prior to coming to St. Petersburg in 1931. “We were having difficulties with some sharecroppers. One of my uncles left, came here and found that it was pretty good. Every year that we were working we would just break even. We would have nothing to come out with,” explains this singer. The relationship with the landholder in South Carolina was so strained that his family stole away during the late evening hours. He recalls that in their haste to leave, they left him by the fireplace. Several hundred miles later, the family discovered him missing. They returned and left unnoticed again. Another ninety-two old respondent explains her trip to St. Petersburg was also prompted by exploitative work relations. When she was thirty-five years old she moved to St. Petersburg in 1936.
I was working for a Navy lieutenant. They came here on vacation. While they were here they worked me both day and night without a day off. I was cooking, cleaning and baby-sitting. I was not getting any time off. I worked all day up to 12 or 1 a. m. I did not like the deal they gave me. While I was here, I visited my aunt. I like what I saw. I went back to Pensacola, quit and moved back here.
Various members influenced their family to move to St. Petersburg. A retired teacher and sister described that their Quitman, Georgia mother “heard that they (African Americans) were doing well down here in Florida. She decided to come down here and make some money and come back and build a home,” explain these sisters. Instead of returning to Georgia as planned, she sent for their father and their youngest brother and sister. After they were settled, she brought the other two children here.
Such scenarios are presented throughout the data. However, a retired civil service employee expressed that he came here from Chicago primarily for the Florida climate. He chose St. Petersburg because the cost of living here was cheaper than the South Atlantic coast. Hence, conclusively the data show that economic conditions attracted African Americans to St. Petersburg.
Although, African Americans found ways to increase their standard of living, they still encountered social conventions that restricted their movement. Respondents consistently discuss “the green benches,” “the Fifteenth Avenue boundary” and “Gulfport,” when talking about the early conditions, which usually means from 1920 to 1971, the Jim Crow period of St. Petersburg.
Until their removal in the 1970s, African Americans were not permitted to sit on the downtown green benches which became a symbol of the city’s large retirement community. Various stories are told that illustrate the severity of this social convention. One retired historian reported seeing an ill African American woman waiting for the bus. Rather than rest on a green bench she placed newspaper on the sidewalk and reclined there.
African Americans were not permitted to live beyond Fifteen Avenue prior to the seventies. This ordinance was used to force a physician to move his home which been built over that imaginary line.
Finally, Gulfport, an “all white town” that borders St. Petersburg did not tolerate African Americans unless they were working there. Legends suggest that by sundown all people of African descent had to leave. A retired elementary school librarian recalls, “You couldn’t do nothing in Gulfport but go out there and work. People were almost afraid to go out there.” A sixty-three year old singer discussed an encounter his mother had in Gulfport. He recalls,
They had a curfew for Gulfport and if you were working out there for those rich people and you got caught some of them were nice enough to put you in their car and bring you out of there. You couldn’t catch the streetcar because the police would get you and carry you back in to Maximo (during the 1950s a swampy area of St. Petersburg). It happened to my mother. She was working for Mrs. Lovelass. They had supper late and she was late getting the supper dishes done. She told Miss Lovelass ‘I am going to be late getting out and I am going miss the street car. I don’t want to stay here overnight because I hate to be away from my children.’ Miss Lovelass said, ‘Well Georgia, you go on and catch that last street car and if they say anything tell them you work for me.’ Well they didn’t give her a chance to talk or anything. They just got my mother and carried her down to Maximo and whipped her then brought her home and put her off and told her that would teach her a lesson about getting out of Gulfport. If they caught you in Gulfport, I don’t care what kind of bigshots you were working for, they would put something on you and throw you out on Twenty Second Street (a main thorough-fare in the Jordan Park area).
In St. Petersburg, these types of events are retold as if they happened recently. They significantly affected African American sense of being and place. Being welcomed only as workers and penned in reservation-like areas, African Americans began to develop their own institutions and depend on each other. They built churches and assisted in the development of Gibbs High school.
The church was the first major institution. For example in 1896, Bethel African Episcopal Methodist church was established. It was the first institution founded in the African American community. Later in 1915 Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ was organized by Elder Clarence Welch’s aunt. In 1926, Bethel Community, formerly known as Georgia Baptist became a part of the community.
Churches became networks of families and friends. For example, new relocatees usually attended a church because of a relation with their friend or a family member. Also, the church became a referral resource. One respondent who attended Bethel AME suggests that people looking for jobs and places to live often went to the church first. Such contacts eased entries into the community.
However, in St. Petersburg churches historically have not fostered a wider sense of community among the African Americans. They became stratified by neighborhood, class, families, and religious philosophies. For example, a member of a pentecostal church explains as a child how he and other children who attended his church were chided for being “holy rollers.” Bethel AME is associated with Methodist Town. Two large Baptist churches are seen often as churches for the elite. Also, philosophical differences within churches lead to the development of other churches. Travelers’ Rest Baptist church was formed as a resistance movement within another church. During this study, Travelers’ Rest splintered again. From this conflict, New Philadelphia was born. During this same period, another Baptist church generated a crisis so serious that police were posted at the door to keep the pastor from entering. The pastor, who originated the first church was forced to start another one.
Churches are also political kingdoms. Members are delivered to politicians for a price during election time, suggests an informant who is a church member and politician. Hence these divisions are barriers to building unity within the community.
Where the church created disparate groups of African Americans, Gibbs High united them under a common banner until desegregation. A retired history teacher recalls,
Gibbs was their school. It was the focal point in the community. All the parents came when we had commencements and football games. Event parents would bring their children to junior and senior prom. The school was an integral part of the community because the Gibbs auditorium was the only place where activities could be held. The school was part of the community and the community was an integral part of the school. We worked together for a common goal.
In addition to developing the church and the school, commercial centers were created. Twenty-Second Street and Second Avenues became the business sections. Until the 1960s, African American business community was rather self- sufficient. Mrs. Edna Williams, a retired hair dresser reports that one could buy shoes and dresses there. “They didn’t have to go downtown unless they wanted something special. All this was on Twenty-Second,” she explains. Second Avenue, the area where the dome is now located was once the site of the James Weldon Johnson Library, doctor Leggett’s office, the Elk Rest, an Elk club, and several businesses.
In addition to established businesses, several members of the community either marketed their wares from door to door or from their homes. For example, Tommy Walton and his father sold vegetables along with other entrepreneurs. Beauticians sometimes worked from their homes. Some women sold homemade pies and cakes, while other sewed for people. The lack of laws and professional licensure allowed commercial development of the community prior to the sixties suggests two former businessmen.
Until the sixties, African American neighborhoods were isolated havens. One seventy-year old secretary suggested that the community was so selfsufficient that she did not have any contacts with whites until she was 18 years old. This event was not so unusual explains a thirty-two year old musician who also did not have meaningful interactions with whites until he was in graduate school. He attended a historical African American college for males while he was an undergraduate.
The community was described as “such a close knit unit” by retired beautician who had a business on Twenty-Second street. She continues, “You couldn’t hide because everybody communicated.” A retired teacher explains, “it was a full fledged community.” She concludes, “After the interstate came everything changed. Some of the people that lived over here, you don’t see them unless you go to a funeral or some kind of big meeting or banquet or something like that.” She sadly recalls, “They just scattered everywhere.”
A significant number of respondents who grew up in St. Petersburg and had not been displaced by development, have remained in the neighborhood they were raised. For example, a teacher and her sister have lived in the same neighborhood most of their lives. A photographer shares that he lives within five blocks of the house where he was born. Another neighbor of his explain that she has lived in the same house since 1938. She resides a few blocks from the home her mother bought in 1929. A drummer, recalls, “I growed up right ’round here, on Twenty Street and Seventh Avenue.” He acknowledges that interstate tore through “a whole settlement of colored people,” — his original neighborhood. He raised his children in a neighborhood near where he grew up. He expresses “l like it here. I am going to stay right here.”
During the 1980s, the security of their neighborhoods and sense of community were shattered by drugs. Almost each respondent’s life has been affected by drugs. Some residents complain that although their particular part of the street is stable and settled by some of the earlier pioneers, drug dealers sell their wares at various times. Others bemoan that either their grand children or children are involved in drugs. For example, a retired truck driver and father discusses how he did not allow his son to live with him because he was involved in drugs. If the period prior to the 1980s was the heyday, the present time is considered the community’s nadir.
A consensus concerning the origin of this problem does not exist. Integration, lack of discipline, older adults failing to pass knowledge to the youngsters, the lack of prayer in the school, and lack of jobs are linked to the drug crisis. A retired beautician and her friend who is a minister, and a selftaught entrepreneur argue that the drug situation is influenced by the freedom of the sixties and the legacy of racial oppression. Mrs. Fuller, a restauranteur suggests,
We felt all the time that our troubles were all because of the white man. Yet the minute they freed us and we could go and come when we wanted to and get jobs like we wanted, we started trying to do the same thing that the white man do. We started dying our hair, the color red; we started wearing shorts and showing nudeness like they did. They felt that these things were alright to do.
Her friend offers a more historical perspective. Mrs. Debose explains:
When you look back during slavery, it gives them a mind of bondage. Anybody with innerself and feelings would wanna be free rather than to be sitting up there until I tell you to move. So if I find another way where I can move my arms when I get ready and be free, I would be stupid to sit like that when I see an opening. So I see the individuals fenced off with words. That inner training is coming from the sense that we can’t express because it goes so far back. . . .
Mrs. Fuller responds, “They have psyched their minds out.”
These women and other respondents consistently indicate that mixing in schools led state intervention in the parenting of African American children. They contend that African Americans are no longer able to “whup” their children. Many argue that African American parents were told by the schools and the Department of Health and Rehabilitative service not to beat their children. They suggest that these parents now fear that they will be reported for abuse by their children should they discipline them. Hence, they conclude the inability to corporeally punish children contributes to the drug problem.
Some respondents suggest the lack of adequate employment contributes to this moral crisis. One retired driver, uses himself as an example. He recalls in 1983 working for two dollars and hour. He was unable to get to jobs that had moved to the northern suburbs because of inadequate bus transportation.
Although he abhors the use of drugs, he suggests he understands how young people are enticed by money. While there are diverse opinions about the source of this problem. There’s an agreement that during the 1970s, but particularly the 1980s drugs became a problem among African Americans in St. Petersbu rg.
Approximately three generations after many African Americans came to improve their livelihood, they have found the conditions of many their children worsened. This gloomy picture in their journey has caused them to reflect on their past life with different perspectives. Many wish for the closeness of a community again and familiar landmarks uninterrupted by interstates and desegregation.
INCREASING THE HISTORICAL AWARENESS
OF AFRICAN AMERICAN YOUTHS
It is imperative that people understand their ontological and historical existence in order to reach their fullest potential, argues Paulo Freire (1970:52). He posits that provided with the proper tools, humans can perceive gradually their personal and social realities as well as the contradictions in them, and critically transform their lives. This chapter highlights a process of increasing the consciousness of African American youths in St. Petersburg through Project La Churasano (Churasano means culture in Mandinka). It recounts how the social history of the community was reconstituted and transmitted to adolescents. This discussion includes a context and a rationale for this aspect of the research by particularly emphasizing the crisis of drugs in the community and the desegregation of the schools.
This applied research project sought to achieve three goals. One was to help African American youths to understand the social contexts that shape them and the life of their communities. The second intent was to give students opportunities to assess critically the development of their neighborhoods from 1920 to 1990. The third purpose was to stimulate students to transcend the barriers of race and to take proactive roles in their futures. It was anticipated that an exploration of their cosmologies, historical origins, and social and economic policies which mold their existence would help students to negotiate structural barriers which restrict their lives.
A Contextual Framework
In 1985, the city of St. Petersburg dismantled the oldest neighborhoods in the African American community and African Americans found themselves in another cauldron — crack cocaine. Some of their teenagers began to use this drug and became entwined in the violence associated with it. Two thirds of youths involved in a study sponsored by the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas county reported that they had killed or harmed someone through their association with cocaine (Dembo 1989:14). Since the mid 1980s drive-by shootings and open drug deals have become common place on many streets in the African American community.
Research shows that the use of crack is significantly linked to the economy of St. Petersburg. Richard Dembo (1989), a criminologist at the University of South Florida, conducted a study of youths who were involved in drugs and lived in Laurel Park and Jordan Park. He found that they were attracted to crack because of its financial rewards. Some of these teenagers reported making more than $600 a day as drug dealers (Dembo 1989:19). Almost 70 percent of the youths who sold cocaine reported that they dealt the substance initially, and later began using it (Dembo 1989:12). Dembo (1989:14) reports that African American males sold cocaine because they desired to earn lots of money and the jobs available to them paid too little.
Many of the leaders in the community have argued that poverty and the limited availability of jobs for African American youths are insufficient reasons to become involved in drugs. They suggest that a depressed job market has been a consistent problem for African Americans. However, prior generations sought more culturally acceptable measures to make a living. News articles in the St. Petersburg Times (9.1.58) show that bolita and alcohol were sold illegally during previous eras. However, community members are quick to argue that children were not involved in these trades. Reverend Garrett posits that those youths who have chosen drugs as an option are divorced from the “traditional values” of their community (Peterman 8.13.91). Therefore, prevention groups have been organized to instill the values of the community into African American youths.
In 1986, Blacks Against Dangerous Drugs (BADD) became an organized entity of concerned citizens. Initially, the members of this grassroots organization marched through the streets in order to drive drug dealers out of the community. Later the group incorporated and founded a treatment center for drug addicts and established prevention programs for African American youths. BADD began to train elementary and middle school students to resist drugs.
Positive Arrangements for Interpersonal Role Models (PAIRS) another program also adopted this philosophy. Wilkins Garrett, the pastor of Mount Zion Church and director of PAIRS matched males between the ages of 11 and 17 years with adult males, taught them economic principles, and introduced them to the Junior Achievement Program (Peterman 8. 31. 91). He suggested that the goal of the program is to help the students to acquire a sense of self and responsibility.
Many African Americans have blamed school desegregation for the drug crisis among the youths. African American students are suspended disproportionately and a significant percentage have dropped out of school. Dembo (1989:10) discovered that 56 percent of the school-aged youths who sold drugs had dropped out of school. Many of this study’s informants contend that a lack of sensitivity to the cultural heritage of African American students is shown in the schools. Howard Hinesley, superintendent of Pinellas county schools acknowledges that “whites do not have as good an understanding or appreciation for difference in culture and respect for the history of the African Americans” (Peterman 6.23.92). Peggy Peterman (12.15.89), a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times writes that it is common knowledge that Black youngsters are burdened by integration.
A “bi-racial” task force comprised of prominent African American and White community leaders has suggested some of these problems may be solved by transmitting knowledge of African American culture and history to African American youths. In 1992, this body requested that Gibbs High become a magnet school with a curriculum that focuses on African American cosmology. This self-appointed task force of doctors, retired teachers, business persons and community leaders also suggested that court ordered busing be rescinded. (The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People disagreed with the proposal). African Americans who advanced the proposal argue that desegregation disrupted the traditional role of African American teachers and schools — of instilling pride and a sense of place in the community to African American children. Hence, they assert that the displacement of African American youths in the school made them vulnerable to social maladies such as pushing drugs.
During the past ten years many African Americans have fought for some form of resegregation. They contend that desegregation left them without a universal medium for transferring their indigenous epistemology to their children. African Americans are seeking permission to enculturate their children from the school board — the agency they accused of damaging their youths. Twenty years after desegregation, African Americans are trying to regain control of their youth and find a mechanism for inoculating them against assimilating non-productive values.
In this environment project La Churasano was created. It was directed at youths between ages 11 and 17 years old. Two four-week classes which addressed African American migration, rapping and preaching, the Civil Rights movement, the Sanitation Strike of 1968, and the city’s urban policies toward African American neighborhoods were offered to middle and high school students. The adolescents were grouped by two cohorts — fourteen and younger and fifteen and older.
Students were recruited through local Black culture clubs, teachers, newspaper articles, and community service agencies. The sessions were free but students had to register with their parents’ permissions. Group attendance was open and voluntary. An average of six students attended each group.
Classes were held two times a week. Students met on Thursdays, and Saturdays. Thursday classes lasted for two hours, while on Saturdays the group met for three hours, because field trips were taken often. Therefore, students met for 5 hours each week for a total exposure of 20 hours.
Prevention: A Process Of Discovering Our Realities
Distinct characteristics emerged between the two groups of students. The initial group consisted of six students. These five males and one female routinely came to the library and the Enoch Davis center after school, primarily because their parents were working. They ranged from ages 11 to 12. Two of the students were enrolled in classes for “emotionally handicapped.” All of the students were from working- and lower-middle-class families. Two of the students’ parents were college educated. Most of these students were encouraged to attend by their parents.
The second group of students was also from working- and middle-class families. However, they lived outside of the immediate environs of the center. The majority of these students’ parents had either high school diplomas or college training. The average student in this group was 15 years old with a parttime job. All of the students except three were members of a Black culture club. One student’s family had migrated from Jamaica. Families of the other students relocated from other parts of Florida and Georgia decades earlier.
Many of the high-school students were involved in other activities. One was the president of her student body and the Black culture club. She and three other group members also sang in a school choir. This particular student even had a part-time job. Another senior was a writer for her school newspaper and participated in an annual city-wide Black History month pageant. Three males attended. Each of them played school sports and had part-time jobs. One of the males also attended a leadership training for high-school students at Eckerd College. Their participation in the classes was motivated by their interest in Black history.
The age differences between the groups helped to differentiate their attitudes towards the project. The younger students frequently saw African Americans in pejorative terms, while the older students sought to know more about their ancestry.
The project began with the younger students. They seriously challenged the project format and resisted any attempts that linked their identities to Africa. The task of encouraging these African American students seemed quite formidable. They were poorly informed about the history of African Americans but well inculcated into the stereotypical images which are portrayed of them. Disregarding their blackness and Africanness, the students made negative comments about blacks and Africans,.
The students perceived their African heritage to be alien and derogatory. During a session concerning the historical origins of African Americans, there was a consensus that their families did not come from Africa. James2, a rather outspoken young man, indignantly said, “I didn’t come from no Africa. Africans ain’t got no sense. They don’t even have sense enough to put on clothes!” I used maps, drums, baskets and other cultural artifacts from Africa to show their connections with African Americans.
Their body language suggested that they did not believe any of the information. The children nervously giggled at such ideas. Their disbelief was confirmed when James, who seemed to speak for the others, said, “Next she is going to tell us that Jesus was black!” It seemed impossible for them to consider that such “primitive people” as Africans were a part of their ancestry.
The students were questioned concerning the source of their beliefs and attitudes about Africans. They said that these things were shown on television. I asked, if they believed everything they saw on television. In unison they replied, “Yes!” They offered the violence in their neighborhoods as an example. They rationalized that what they saw on television news was not too different from what they saw in their neighborhoods. They argued that blacks were always robbing, killing each other and doing drugs in their neighborhood just like on television. I countered their examples with models of people in the community who were not engaged in violence. Nevertheless, the students reasoned that if the information was not true, it would not have been shown on television.
Later during the session, I pursued James’ comment about the color of Jesus. I anticipated that such examination would help the students understand that race was socially constructed. The students were instructed to locate on the map the place Jesus was born. I asked them if they thought Jesus was “black” or “white.” Each of the four students attending that day said, “White!” I suggested that people from that region of the world most often referred to themselves as Jewish or Arabic. Again, I pursued the question and asked them if they considered color to mean the same thing in the area where Jesus was born as it did in the United States? No answers were given.
I was curious to know what motivated the students to see Jesus as “white.” I inquired how they reached such conclusion. The students acted as if they could not believe that I was asking this question. James said, “All you have to do is look at his picture over the pulpit in the churches.” Their observations were true. In the majority of the African American churches in St. Petersburg, Jesus was drawn with long blond hair and with Nordic features. For them, the church was the final word of truth.
My analyses confronted their realities I perceived that I was not only defying their beliefs but also the teachings of the church. Therefore, I was treading in dangerous waters. The students regard the church to be above reproach along with the television. This problem could not be resolved in one class session, I concluded.
It was difficult to discuss the history of African Americans in St. Petersburg without providing background information concerning the larger African American struggles. For example, students knew Martin Luther King, but their knowledge of him and his role in the Civil Rights movement was largely unknown. Therefore, I included the “Eyes on the Prize” series and other documentaries to provide context and content.
Toward the end of the four-week session a shift in James’ attitude was observed. Before class one day, he told me that he hoped to be an engineer. He wondered if I had any books about Black scientists that he could read. The following session, I gave him a list of black inventors and a copy of Van Sertima’s (1990) Blacks in Science. This author traces African scientific innovation from 2,000 B.C. to African Americans who are present-day nuclear scientists. Although Van Sertima’s (1990) work is somewhat advanced, James read some excerpts. While discussing the book, he wondered how was it possible for early Africans to know about astronomy and build pyramids. His question seemed more of wonderment than inferring the impossibility of such feats existing among Africans.
During another session on the sixties, the younger students raised serious questions. The class included a video presentation about the student rebellion at Howard University, Mohammed Ali’s fight against the draft board and a guest speaker. The speaker discussed his experience as a student protector at Florida A & M University during that period. The relationship between the striking students and the police was a concern of the students. They wanted to know how Ali was able to resolve his troubles with the draft. The sixties, however, seemed like ancient history to those youths. “How was it back in those days?,” they would say. They seemingly realized that these struggles were a part of their parents’ realities but not theirs.
The second series of classes with the older adolescents were strikingly different from the first group. These students were willing to analyze the African American community and its relationship with the larger community. They also perceived that structural barriers affected their lives. Naturally, they were more mature than the younger group.
The perceptiveness of the older students was shown during the first session. These youths were given the responsibility of video taping interviews with each other. The goal of the session was to help the students to become acquainted with each other. They were instructed to question their counterparts about some aspects of their culture and their families. The students chose to explore family backgrounds, family rules about dating, sex, education and career goals.
Inquiry into the Jamaican student’s family’s attitude about pregnancy generated a cross-cultural perspective concerning the rearing of young women. Melody was asked if her mother consistently warned her not to get pregnant and stay in school. She informed the group members that in her culture, it was not automatically assumed that a teenage girl would get pregnant. She reported that her mother emphasized education. She reasoned that her mother never doubted that she and her sister would attend college. The experiences of the four girls who had grown up in St. Petersburg were contrasted. These girls unanimously stated that their mothers continually warned them against getting pregnant. Their mothers feared that they would have children before finishing school. Thus the admonishment not to get pregnant was stronger than the advice to get an education. I asked the students to consider which factors may have shaped these different cultural responses. Students from both cultures agreed that economics play a key role in these approaches. The Jamaican student and the local students suggested that women were expected to be able to take care of themselves. Their analyses implied that these different African cultures were motivated by the same goal even if their methods were different.
A class on the African Diaspora and the origins of African Americans gave students a greater understanding of the relationship between AfroCaribbean people and African Americans. Although these African American students understood and accepted that African Americans came from Africa, neither of them considered that many Jamaicans and people from the Caribbean were of African descent. They concluded that the slave experience was unique to blacks in the United States. They thought that Afro-Caribbean were indigenous to that area. African Americans students born in the United States wondered, why, if Caribbean blacks came from Africa originally, did people from the Islands act as if they were better than African Americans. The local students seemed to infer that if people from the Caribbean had similar histories as African Americans, then their status was the same as blacks in the United States. Such comparison of African Americans with Afro-Caribbean was framed in the context of race and competition between “Island blacks” and “blacks in the United States.” Students were asked to consider how these groups were pitted against each other and stereotyped in this country. They offered the Haitian and Cuban refugees as examples. The group suggested that race was the predominant factor that prevented Haitians from being accepted in the United States. Tanya, the student body president, reminded the group that the Haitians were further stereotyped as having AIDS. Tanyaspeaking of Afro-Caribbean people, said, “They, ain’t no better than us.” She implied that race was also a burden for Afro-Caribbean people in this country.
A salient issue during these discussions was: “Why no one told us about these things before?” This question led to a discourse about the roles of schools in their education. Students disappointedly expressed that their schools never addressed the origins of African Americans. “They only talk about slavery,” Jamal (pseudonym), a high school junior student mocked.
This student argued that when he sought to introduce an African American perspective in the class he encountered difficulties. Jamal described a teacher’s response to a paper he wrote on Malcolm X. He contended that the teacher criticized him for writing about Malcolm X. The teacher allegedly told Jamal that Malcolm X was a racist and a radical who hated white people. Also, he argued that many people feared Malcolm X. The student tried to explain to the teacher that the image was a misconception that had been portrayed by the media. The teacher prevailed nevertheless. Jamal commented that he would continue to read but keep his ideas to himself. This African American student perceived the school environment to be restrictive rather than nurturing.
He further pointed out that the African American students at his school did not embrace the idea of a Black culture club. His school, located in an ethnically-mixed upper-middle-class neighborhood, has been unable thus far to organize a Black culture club, although several attempts had been made. He reasoned that the black students were too busy “being white” and assimilating into the dominant middle-class culture of the school. Jamal felt that students were too embarrassed to join a black culture club. Agreement with his observations concerning the club was later expressed by one of the counselors at the school.
By contrast, the other students in the group attended the historically all Black Gibbs high school, and they were members of the Black culture club. African Americans now comprise 25 percent of the student body and the school has a Black culture club. The Black culture club is an organ that African American students have used since desegregation to counter alienation, assert their collective presence, and provide a sense of belonging. The Gibbs students expressed that the Black culture club gave them opportunities to discuss issues concerning their history and community which otherwise may not be discussed in the classroom. They felt that this venue provided a safe haven for their thoughts. The Gibbs students indicated that their history teacher was instrumental in helping them to organize and sustain the club.
The students recognized that this teacher, who had spent his entire professional career at Gibbs, was their advocate in the system. They bragged to the other students that he developed and taught a course on African American history after Reconstruction in the winter term 1991. They compared him with other teachers and suggested that he actually understood them. This teacher also encouraged these students to attend my program.
The community-based program and Mr. Solomon’s (pseudonym) guidance were mutually supportive. My program allowed students to localize the information they learned in their classes and clubs.
The students were given opportunities to investigate the consequences of the displacement of the Laurel Park community by urban redevelopment. A field trip was taken to the site of the Florida Suncoast Dome. The students were charged to video tape the area and to interview residents and the remaining business owners to determine how these persons felt about the removal of the community.
Before interviewing the community members, the students had the chance to discuss the politics of hazardous materials and poor communities. Our arrival at the site was welcomed by a red ribbon that warned: Danger Asbestos. The cordoned off plot of land was the site of a future parking lot for the Suncoast Dome. The students had many questions. They wondered if the workers had been sufficiently protected while they removed the asbestos. If the St. Petersburg Housing Authority knew that Laurel Park complex which it owned, had asbestos, why did the agency allow people to live there, they asked. Were the remaining residents and businesses informed that Laurel Park had asbestos when the demolition occurred. Not all of the students’ questions were answered. However, a business owner told us that he had not been informed prior to the demolition that harmful substances were at the complex.
Adjacent to area where the housing complex once stood, remained six homes, one five-unit apartment building, and two businesses. One store was owned by a Vietnamese family and the other by an African American man.
Interviews with the remaining residents and store owners showed that urban policies can disrupt peoples’ lives even if they are not required to move. The residents and the storekeepers expressed a sense of loss over the dismantling of their community. The residents of Laurel Park had been a source of income to the store owners. They were barely able to break even without this revenue. The African American owner told the students that he now supplemented his income by selling parking spaces on his property when events were held at the Dome. He acknowledged that activities did not occur often. Two of the remaining residents said that the neighborhood had little choice in determining the course of events. One gentleman who appeared to be in his late thirties suggested that the city viewed the area as a crime-ridden eyesore. Another homeowner in her mid-sixties informed the students that she had lived in her home for over twenty years. However, she said that the current chaos had led her to decide to return to Georgia.
These direct encounters increased students’ awareness concerning the ethics of urban redevelopment and policies. As the group was leaving the neighborhood, Sam, a junior who had been videotaping the scene, excitedly turned to the rest of us while pointing at the huge columns that supported the interstate exchange above. “This is not the first time this community has been torn up. Look, at how this place has been cut- up by the interstate,” he said. Other students surmised that the city had targeted this community a decade earlier and the latest removal was another aspect of its plan to remove African Americans from the area. Sam concluded that it was not possible for the city to build a stadium across from this community and allow the people to stay there. He and other students argued that the presence of Laurel Park would have discouraged Whites from coming to the area. Hence, the students realized that not all of the goals of urban policies are explicitly expressed.
“How could the black community let this happen?” asked Tanya, president of the Black culture club. There was an overwhelming consensus among the students that poverty and image were directly linked to the dislocation of the Laurel Park residents. Sean, a junior suggested that if the residents had not been poor, they would not have been removed. Tomeka, a senior perceived that the black community did not support the Laurel Park residents because of its image as a housing project. It was home to “welfare mothers and their children”. The students inferred that the “black leaders” also felt that Laurel Park was a blot on the black community’s image. Therefore, they did not fight its removal. This discussion helped students to understand that in this case, the divided views of the community concerning Laurel Park and an imposed stigma contributed to their removal.
Kari reminded the students that the director of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority was a “black man” and he played an instrumental role in removing the residents by selling the building to the city. This statement led the students to question the director’s allegiance. The students believed that the director should have done more to prevent the removal of the residents rather than contributing to their dislocation. The director’s behavior was not so unusual suggested the students. “Blacks in high positions often forget where they came from.” Through the students eyes, the director’s role seemed straight-forward. They felt he should have supported the residents of Laurel Park rather than selling their home to the city.
CHAPTER 6 CONTINUED. . .
There are four major implication for this community-based enculturation program. (1.) The African American community needs to investigate how its members are socialized to believe racist assumptions about themselves. (2.) Social changes in the community have signaled a major need for African Americans to intervene in the education of their youths and the school policies which affect their lives. (3.) An examination of the social construction of African American life by the media is warranted. (4.) These discussion groups provided a means for the community to interpret its cosmology to its youths and promote the salience of their place in the city.
When African American children openly express pejorative terms about Africans and blacks it seems apparent that the community needs to examine how the ideas and self concepts of African American children are shaped. The words of the younger students sounded as if they were spoken by some nineteenth century scientists justifying the inferiority of Africans and Blacks. Instead these ideas were mouthed by children who had only been on this planet little more than a decade. Why have these thoughts rolled so comfortably and confidently from the tongues of these youths?
When a subordinate population, in this case African American youths believe that they and their culture are inferior, deculturation has occurred (Baker 1983:37). Their identity then becomes firmly rooted in the social order which has been ascribed to them (Magubane 1987:15). This phenomenon was clearly seen among the younger group members. The placement of two of the students in special education classes for the emotionally handicapped, perhaps, reinforced their belief in the inferiority of blacks.
These children linked their concepts of blackness and Africanness to the television news. Would it be possible for an external force to have such influence over the minds of these children if their community affirmed a more positive message concerning Africans and blacks? Research (Magubane 1987:15; Baker 1983:37; Fanon 1970:137) suggests that minority groups assist in perpetuating their inferiority once they have accepted a subordinate status.
The church is, perhaps unconsciously, complicitous in perpetuating negative images of African peoples. James Cone (1963:121) a theological scholar, argues that “the black church identifies ‘white words’ with God’s Word and convinces its people that by obeying the ‘great white father’ they would surely enter into the ‘pearly gates’.” No doubt such message is not explicitly expressed. A portrayal of Christ as “white” rather than Semitic conveys to African Americans that God is white. Such image of Jesus fosters the culture hegemony of whites. Racially inspired images convey a strong message of the subordination of African Americans.
A critical assessment by African Americans of their culture and how children are socialized into various roles is crucial to their survival. Answers to these questions will offer insight into the role African Americans play to prepare their children for the future. How successful can a child be in a society where he or she feels inferior? Why did the younger students have negative attitudes toward being African and black? Were these concepts prevalent earlier in the older students but changed by time? What roles have schools and parents played in shaping the impressions of African American youth? Which messages do the social institutions convey to children? Are children socialized to assimilate? Did the events that occurred during their birth era make a difference? How can the community support students who seek greater awareness of themselves as cultural beings. How have Black culture clubs enhanced the achievement of African American students? The documentation of the social history of African Americans in St. Petersburg allows African Americans to examine historical patterns of socialization and their implications in assisting African American children in reaching their full potential. However, further exploration of these issues are needed.
When investigating these questions, one must consider that the students who participated in this project were self-selected. However, a consideration of the sample leads one to speculate about those students who were not interested in engaging in such a program. Are they in worse condition than those who attended?
If so, what can the community do to educate those who may be a very serious threat to themselves and their community. Alexander Leighton (1959) proposes that a sense of alienation and displacement lead to alcoholism, drug addiction, and other problems. The National Urban League has concluded that a low self-valuation has contributed to the escalating violence among young African American males ( Bell and Jenkins 1990).
Derrick Bell (1991:9) speaking of African Americans’ quest for racial justice writes:
We have attained all the rights we sought in law and gained none of the resources we need in life. Like the crusaders of old, we sought the holy grail of ‘equal opportunity’ and, having gained it in court decisions and civil right statutes, find it transformed from the long-sought guarantee of racial equality into one more device the society can use to perpetuate the racial status-quo.
This analysis describes the paradox of education in the African American community. African Americans believed that the desegregation of schools would improve their condition. Instead they found the integrity of their culture threatened and the status of their children and community weakened, because the school was no longer the core of the community. Although many of the facilities were still located in their neighborhoods, their children felt like intruders (Hacker 1992). Their power to use school as a medium to transmit African American cultural values was significantly reduced. The community now is dependent on the actions of individual concerned teachers. Discontinuity between the cultures of school, home, and community has seriously jeopardized the academic achievement of many African American children. This historical watershed in the history of St. Petersburg, twenty years later would create a complex dilemma for African Americans. The issue is whether to pursue the current path of desegregation or return to a separate and “equal” system.
In retrospect, it appears that African American leaders did not understand the mainstream role of schools. One of the major goals of schools has been to rid ethnic groups of their ethnic characteristics and reinforce Anglo-Saxon values and behaviors as the standard (Banks 1984:71). Ellwood Patterson Cubberly concluded that the task of the schoolv was to break up immigrant groups and their settlements, to assimilate or amalgamate them as part of the American race and to implant in their children as far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon concept of righteousness, law, order, and popular government, and to awaken in them reverence for democratic institutions and for those things which we as a people hold to be of abiding worth (Banks 1984:474).
Hence, as a social institution, school constitutes machinery that helps to maintain the social structure and its continuity.
The issues that African American communities face concerning their children are dictated by power. The power to interpret the epistemologies of knowledge within the schools does not lie in the hands of African Americans. That power originates with the school board and superintendent of schools in Pinellas county. These policy making bodies have yet to include an African American or any other minority group member. Therefore, a rearrangement of the student population may not produce significant results, if the role of the school is defined by members of one cultural group. Working to diversify the voices that govern the educational system is a path that will allow greater respect for African American epistemologies which govern the lives of African American students.
However, this study has shown that there are avenues which the African American community can use to educate its children. The Black culture club provides a mean of educating African American children concerning their heritage. Judging the caliber of the students who were members of the Black culture club, it appears that they were self-assured and better prepared to critically examine their world. Clubs could be organized by neighborhoods to address historical and contemporary conditions which shape African American cosmologies. Such organizations could reduce the effect of assimilation because students are enabled to differentiate their world view from other without devaluing either and feeling compromised.
“Television is a powerful medium without the necessity of any enhancement” (Robinson 1990:170). Robinson (1990:170) examined the impact of television and television advertising on African American youths. He argued that a new reality was created as many African Americans moved farther away from those values that sustained them historically. Television became the predominant socializer of this generation. However, he suggested that the media primarily relied on stereotypical images to portray African Americans and framed them often as members of the “black underclass”. Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson became the exceptions to the rule. Hence, the major role of television in reshaping the cultural views of African Americans youths led the younger ones to conclude that television is a medium which one can believe.
This project placed the elders as the shapers of the students world. Their words were portrayed as valid affirmation of the African-American way of life in St. Petersburg. This point of reference is rather important for many youths who have disregarded their grandparents’ ideas as old fashioned. These oral histories hence, helped to re-position the role of one of the traditional socializers. It is of paramount importance that the voices of the elders be heard if African Americans are going to sustain the continuity of their culture.
Although, the effectiveness of the program requires a longitudinal assessment, one may conclude that students were sensitized to the realities of their lives. The ethnic history of African Americans in St. Petersburg has played a cogent role in informing students about their culture and the cultural assumptions of others about their culture. Group interactions with these youths have been supported by the assumption that their lives naturally intersect with many events in their neighborhoods. Many times these incidents are dialectical and threaten the existence of African Americans. An examination of the complex structures of exclusion and racism permits the students to understand that the pressure to assume the cultural characteristics held by others about themselves may be subtle perpetuated either through television, religious images, a dialogue with a teacher or the absence of information. Students were also provided an opportunity to see and hear how a city’s political agenda toward development and modernization destroyed African American neighborhoods and affected the financial and emotional security of those who remained. The reconstruction of their community’s history has taught students about the realities that shape their lives and the salience of their ethnicity when interacting with other groups.
Perhaps more importantly, these students were trained to question how realities are created and to understand when societal structures undermine their communities simply by being anchored in their own world view. Freire (1970:71) posits that this type of problem-solving education challenges students to “perceive the way they exist in the world in which they find themselves.” People who understand who they are become fully actualized (Banks 1981:27).
1. One consequence of racial identity for oppressed people is that they internalize negative attitudes of their oppressors. Donald Baker (1983:37) in Race’ Ethnicity and Power, argues that in racial relationships, the cultural identity of subordinate groups is destroyed and an inferiority complex is instilled.
2. Pseudonyms are used for all of the pupils.
PERSPECTIVES OF A NATIVE ANTHROPOLOGIST
What does it mean to investigate the history of one’s own people who are also politically and economically disfranchised? What does it mean to turn their view of the world into an analytical and scholarly analysis? What does it mean to work with youngsters who share the same culture but are alienated from the beliefs that you have been taught to honor? These questions emerged out of my field experiences as a “native anthropologist.” This dissertation research symbolizes a discourse between the African American community and one of its members. In this chapter, a definition of “native anthropologist” and how that role influenced the data gathering and my interpretation of events are discussed.
In anthropological parlance, a native anthropologist is considered a field worker who conducts research on the cultural or ethnic group of which that individual is a member (Jones 1988:30). Common values, languages and beliefs allegedly have permitted native anthropologists to represent more adequately the emic perspective of their cultural group (Jones 1988:32). It has been assumed that native anthropologists have been enculturated in a cultural group and therefore understand the meanings embodied their behaviors.
Despite the proposed advantage of emic perspectives, anthropologists have been questioned concerning their ability to portray objectively their own ethnic culture. Delmos Jones (1988:31) suggests that, “students are generally taught that a person working among his own people cannot maintain the degree of objectivity desirable.” Jones (1988:33) argues that this philosophical debate influences the research process. For me as an African American anthropologist, I was keenly aware of this philosophical debate throughout my research.
However, I perceived that the debate is not about objectivity as much as it is about the power of paradigms. Thomas S. Kuhn (1970) dispelled the notion of complete objectivity in research. Also, anthropologists have long assumed that knowledge is relative. Kuhn (1970:23) suggests that “a paradigm is an accepted model or pattern” that has been reached by consensus.
Therefore, for me the issue has been to discover the consensus of thought between the two cultures that have enculturated me — the African American community and the academic community. The academic culture has trained me in a European American world view of studying different cultural groups. While my African American culture has taught me to understand the European American culture in order that I may pursue social justice, but warned me not to become coopted by it. Therefore, this dissertation reflects a paradigm that has emerged from an internal and external discourse between two cultures.
In searching for the appropriate paradigm to explain African American ethnicity, I had to find the balance between my emic knowledge of the culture and the existing theoretical models that explained this phenomena. The prevailing view of ethnicity among many anthropologists has been that ethnicity is socially constructed out of the political economy of pluralistic societies. Therefore, it has been assumed that mode of production has driven ethnic behavior. This theoretical model seemingly has described more sufficiently the African American response to their displacement in St. Petersburg than other theories. However, as a native anthropologist, my emic perspective has suggested that political economy does not totally explain an African American value of spirituality. For example, my native view of African American culture tells me that the ethnic behaviors of the elders in the community have not been determined by modes of production. At times, I discerned their spiritual nature was more of a determinant of their lives than their material well being. When discussing the injustices of the past, I found among the elders a silent but strong rectitude. I was reminded of a spiritual that is frequently sung in African American churches: “I have betn buked and I be’n scorned, I be’n talked bout as sure as you born; but as long as I know I got a seat in the kingdom, that’s all right.” Their spiritual postures exuded a confidence of other worldliness that a materialist ideology does not seem to explain. Therefore, a dialogue between the two cultures has provided insight that will lead to an expansion of the current paradigm explaining African American ethnicity.
This epistemological weakness indicates the lack of “native anthropology.” “Native anthropology” is defined as “a set of theories based on non-Western precepts and assumptions (Jones 1988:31). Gwaltney (1981:48) further explains that “native anthropology” is the incorporation of indigenous elucidation and perspectives into theory building. Jones (1988:30) contends that “there is yet no set of theoretical conclusions generated from the point of view of native anthropologist.”
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose ” advises Zora Neale Hurston (1984:174). When doing research especially with disenfranchised groups such as African Americans, this process often is questioned. ‘The people say that the truth is the light,’ but they know also that the ‘truth is a razor’ (Gwaltney 1981:59). Therefore, the African American community cautiously has revealed itself. Many African Americans have assumed that research is either synonymous with finding fault with the community, or political inaction (Jones 1988). Too often research has further stigmatized the community and created more problems than it solved. Also, many African Americans have viewed research as a process of subterfuge. Being “black,” living in St. Petersburg and doing research were not sufficient to encourage people to disclose themselves. I had to show who controlled my research data and prove that my goals were aligned with the community.
This question of allegiance has been a common experience of native anthropologists. Beatrice Medicine, (1978) a Sioux found that many Indians were very cautious with anthropologists because of their perceived prior role in assisting the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Being a native anthropologist did not automatically ensure acceptance, she had to prove her commitment to improving the status of Native Americans with her knowledge. Passing this criterion opened doors.
For me, being African American and working on my doctorate, opened more doors than just being “black and living in St. Petersburg.” It was not uncommon for my informants to call other contacts and say, ” I got a young lady here who is doing her doctorate on Blacks in St. Petersburg; I would like for you to talk to her.” On other occasions, I was paraded around community functions and women’s club socials as someone working on my Ph.D. Several informants offered their help because they wanted to contribute to my success.
Many African Americans participated in this research project because of their strongly held values towards education. It was not uncommon for some informants to say “I am real proud of you. I didn’t get much education but you young people have to get all you can.” One informant showed me her masters thesis from the University of Michigan and said, “I know getting a doctorate is not easy honey, but you hang in there.” For the older African Americans, a young African American woman achieving a doctorate signifies another blow against racist assumptions about the intelligence and the learning capacity of Black people. Therefore, my doctorate exemplified a victory for them also.
African Americans feel closely associated with the triumphs and failures of each other (Martin and Martin 1978). I realized that achieving a doctorate was not an individual trophy. But I felt it more keenly when I heard those words of encouragement and when I sat eating sweet potato pie with women and men who treated me as if I was one of their granddaughters. These chats reinforced the bond that I was one of them and they were a part of me. I sensed if I failed, the community also failed. I knew that my field work, the writing of my dissertation and my Ph.D. belonged to the African American community as much as it did to me.
It would be naive of me to suggest that all African Americans in St. Petersburg perceived my goals as being aligned with theirs. One of my greatest disappointments occurred when the person who had been most instrumental in encouraging me to study the history of African Americans in St. Petersburg declined to be interviewed. After I wrote a couple of letters requesting an interview, she telephoned me. She said, “Evelyn, I like you and I know that you are a good person, but I would be a fool if I gave you my information. I am writing my own book.” I knew that was the final word. No amount of cajoling would change her mind. The color of my skin had nothing to do with her decision, competing personal goals was the issue.
Frequently, the anthropological and the African American communities have expected African American anthropologists to examine stereotypical assumptions which have been made about their communities (Vesper) 1985). I did not find this issue a major concern among African Americans. Many of the respondents assumed that God would take care of wrongs and truth would emerge. Others suggested that African Americans were powerless to change past events. One informant argued, “White people are going to do what they want to do, but Black people have to go on living with them.” This was not a fatalistic statement but a statement of spiritual survival.
Nevertheless, the focus of this research was not remembering the past to correct past events but remembering the past to control the future. My informants were aware that the research data would be incorporated into an educational program for children. While interviewing, many injected warnings that I should pass on to the students. Frequently, advise about the value of education and work were given. One gentleman spent an afternoon talking to me about how he received a college education while he worked. He showed me the work tools that his father had used to help build the Gandy Bridge. At end of the interview this gentleman, who is also a retired school teacher, volunteered to lead discussions with youngsters.
The concept of the “native anthropologist” frequently has implied that the world views of the native anthropologist and his or her cultural group are monolithic. In some ways, I believed that the common experience of racism in America creates a common sense of heritage among most African Americans. It only took one session with young African American students between the age of 9 to 11 years to remind me that many of these youths had not been enculturated by the same system. I found that these children did not share common values and beliefs with me concerning African Americans. When I tried to provide them a contextual framework for understanding African Americans in St. Petersburg, I was confronted with many negative attitudes. They concluded, “Blacks ain’t got no sense…. They are violent…. They kill each other.” I realized that I had justified my research on data concerning African American youths’ devaluation of their Africanness. However, I was shocked to discover how deeply many youths had internalized these negative stereotypes. This reality was a painful process for me as an African American. I felt that I and these younger children were mutually one but a destructive gulf separated us.
Confronting this truth brought me face to face with the meaning of “native anthropologist.” Feeling connected with these children, I found it difficult to maintain an “objective” and detached position. My emotions ranged from anger to sadness. These encounters led me to seek a deeper analysis of these children’s perceptions. I questioned them, talked to friends, and looked for patterns within the community to find answers for my observations and feelings. This dissertation has included an analysis of these events.
Creating a paradigm that can be used to prevent further deterioration of African American youths while also providing an accurate portrayal of African Americans in St. Petersburg has required finding a delicate balance between my own ethnic values and the process of scholarship. As a native anthropologist this process has juxtaposed my world view as an anthropologist with my world view as an African American. It has challenged me to investigate some assumptions which I held about African American culture and African Americans. Being a native anthropologist has challenged me to determine if my assumptions are based either on my enculturation or my acculturation. Discovering the balance between the two has meant walking a tight rope in an scientific world that has valued positivist assumptions and an African American community that has been suspicious of research, period. To prevent a dismissal of my research as being subjective rhetoric, I have had to question continually assumptions which I have made and assess what motivated them. Nevertheless, I have been aware that this research not only served my needs as a doctoral student but the needs of the African American community.
As an African American, the experience of being with African American youths proved that the impact of racism was more than a conceptual framework. Although the realism shattered some aspects of my idealism and led me to investigate further some of the underlying assumptions supporting these children’s behaviors. I have concluded that had I not had contact with these children my dissertation would have reflected the ideals of the elders and the statistical analyses of the social scientists and policy makers. Facing them provided me insight into their world view and the conditions that shape their lives.
A key to understanding the scholarship of a native anthropologist is realizing that research is a contextual relationship (Angrosino 1989b: 315-326). This process is built not only on one’s cultural heritage but also influenced by the audience for which the message is intended (Angrosino 1989b).
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
Proverbs 1 1 : 14
How has life for African Americans in St. Petersburg changed during past seventy years? What has alienated the youth from the traditional values of their community? What role has the dialectics of underdevelopment and development played in shaping the lives of African American youths? Persistent violence among African American youths, their disproportionate school suspensions and juvenile incarceration motivated these questions and this dissertation. This section offers concluding insights concerning the historical continuities and discontinuities confronting African Americans in St. Petersburg.
Racism and tourism have been persistent factors in St. Petersburg. Although, as social conditions changed, the city also altered its strategies to extract profits from tourists and to restrict African American contact with them. After the 1964 Civil Rights act dismantled the legal segregation of African Americans, the city of St. Petersburg could no longer pass blatantly racist resolutions. Therefore, city officials relied on subtle policies such as urban redevelopment schemes and interstate highways to discriminate against African Americans and attract tourists. Combined with hostile desegregation, the city either altered, destroyed, or divided the African American community to develop its tourist economy. Social networks and relations among African Americans were sacrificed.
City resolutions such of those of 1931 and 1941 segregated the African American community by law. Ostensibly, these laws created an isolated but distinct community ascribed by racism. Under these conditions, black institutions arose. African Americans bought land and established Mercy, a hospital that was staffed by black nurses and doctors. Gibbs High and Jordan Park elementary schools were founded. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, Melrose Park Club House, Manhattan Casino and other social institutions were developed to strengthen bonds among the members of the community. African American ownership of grocery stores, beauty salons, restaurants and cleaners also helped to reinforce feeling of separateness and belonging.
The isolation was so complete that it was possible to reside in the community without having any direct knowledge of the white community. A 70 year-old church secretary and a 35 year-old music therapist reported that while growing up, they had no significant contact with whites. The church secretary, explained that she was eighteen years old the first time she went downtown. Prior to that day, she suggests, she did not have a reason to leave her community. The products she needed could be purchased within the community. Gary Gordon, although several generations younger than the secretary recalled that his contact with whites was delayed until he went to graduate school. His undergraduate years were spent at Morehouse college, an all-black men’s college. Hence if one did not work outside of the black community, it was possible to attend church, school, shop and socialize without leaving the confines of the African American community.
Separate residential and business districts for African Americans were so rigidly enforced by the city of St. Petersburg, that the African American community consisted of persons of various economic and professional classes. Therefore, lawyers, doctors, teachers, maids, ministers, janitors and woodsellers lived in the same neighborhoods and often attended the same churches and social clubs and together schooled and reared their children. Even entertainers such as Cab Calloway, who came to St. Petersburg solely to entertain white audiences had to sleep in the black neighborhoods. The only persons of color exempted to live outside of the prescribed perimeters of the Negro community were servants. Otherwise, the city kept all Negroes within said territorial limits of the 1931 city charter.
Although segregation was designed to limit the capacity of African Americans, it fostered a tightly knit community. These bonds reinforced the cultural expectations of their children and the collective responsibility of individuals to instill these values. Mrs. Edna Williams explained, “You (a child) couldn’t hide anything because everybody communicated.” Mothers and teachers were especially close because they knew each other. Often they lived in the same neighborhood, suggested Williams. Ernest Fillyau, city councilman, remembered that Deacon Brown, a janitor for Gibbs High would remind him often when he strayed from his training, to respect his family’s name. Therefore, from the degradation of segregation, came a communal network for child rearing.
For children, the social implications of living in a segregated community cannot be understated, especially when being black and African carry a stigma of inferiority. This insular community reduced the impact of direct racism on the lives of African American youngsters. For example, racial stereotypes had less meaning when African American youths daily observed members of their community who administered schools, taught chemistry, mathematics and mingled with world renowned individuals. For example, Mrs. Fannye Ponder, a social studies teacher at Gibbs, wife of the first African American doctor in St. Petersburg and socialite, was a close confidant of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McCleod Bethune. Her friendship with these women led them to visit Gibbs and speak to the students. Likewise, Langston Hughes, a friend of Miss Olive B. McLin, chair of Gibbs’ English department for forty years, lectured there. These visits visually demonstrated to the students the outstanding capacities of some members of their community.
During segregation, Gibbs was a medium whereby African Americans were enculturated in their native epistemology and acculturated in the world view of the mainstream society. Bob Perry, president of Gibbs High class of 1963 told Theresa White (1980:20), a St. Petersburg Times journalist, ‘Our teachers made us realize that we were black and we had obstacles to face and we really didn’t have much time to waste.’ Students were informed not only of the structural barriers that shaped their world but were prepared also to compete in the white world. Therefore, Shakespeare, Latin, French and other subjects in classical European curriculum were taught. Also, “English Fairs” were held annually to allow students to display their command of English. Gibbs trained students to be bi-cultural.
Despite African Americans’ ability to turn segregation into a positive strategy, it was not an idyllic era. African Americans were hanged, beaten and assaulted. Occasionally, parents could not protect their children from seeing these acts. For example, Paul Barco was a child when he saw Brodley Bass tarred and feathered. Tommy Walton observed the effects of a beating his mother received for missing the last street car from Gulfport. Whether they left their neighborhood or remained inside, as youths, informants knew that the lines that defined their community caged them in a world of racism and limited opportunities. Despite the illusions of a sequestered society, blacks did not feel free inside, recalled Mr. Shannon.
This reality led African Americans to cross boundaries created by segregation and to fight for qualitative change. Hence, African Americans began to challenge legally and protest the discrimination fostered by the city of St. Petersburg. Beginning in the late 1950s, Doctor Fred Alsup sued the city for the right to use the tax supported Spa beach and pool and other facilities. The city closed the pool for several months and sold its golf course in Pasadena to keep blacks out. However, the Fifth Circuit court required the city to abandon its segregation policies. Nevertheless persistent patterns of behavior and years of cultural conditioning were not easily destroyed. Therefore, race-based customs and policies continued to shape the culture in St. Petersburg. Hence, African Americans led sit-ins, boycotted Webb city, literally tore down symbols of white hegemony and rallied to support the striking sanitation workers during the 1960s. By the end of the decade, they gained a seat on the city council for the first time and sanitation workers had better benefits and working conditions. However, their children continued to attend poorly-equipped Negro schools. Therefore, African Americans perceived their job was incomplete. Almost twenty years after the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in Brown vs Topeka Board of Education, Pinellas county desegregated its schools. African Americans considered a major barrier to an open society had fallen. However, their children and communities would pay a heavy price for challenging the power structure of St. Petersburg and the county. Laws changed de jure segregation, but did not alter the years of conditioning that led whites to assume that African Americans were inferior. Therefore, their children were suspended, expelled, disproportionately placed in “emotionally handicapped classes” and given few opportunities to see African Americans in positions of importance. In 1980, nine years after the schools were desegregated, Doreatha Bennett, a parent, observed that in her granddaughter’s school, there were no black students in leadership. She and others in the community concluded that black students were treated unequally in the schools. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ensured that they would forever be a minority by limiting their population in each school to a maximum of 30 percent. By 1980, eleven of the 33 middle and high schools did not have black administrators and black teachers comprised 11.6 percent of the population (the affirmative action goal was 15.8 percent) (DeLoache 1980:16). On June 23, 1992, thirty-two retiring African American teachers were interviewed by Peggy Peterman, a St. Petersburg Times journalist. Twenty-one years after desegregation they reported that there continued to be a dearth of black role models in the schools and a climate of cultural tensions. They observed that many white teachers are afraid of black students, and black students do not feel comfortable in the predominantly white schools (Peterman 1992:1D). Even Howard Hinesley, superintendent of schools, acknowledged that whites don’t have a significant understanding or appreciation for differences in cultures and a respect for African Americans. “We have culturally ignored some of the issues that bother the (black) students,” reported Hinesley (Peterman 1992:1 D). The school board undermined the ability of African American community to transmit its cosmology through the school and endangered African American students by not addressing cultural differences between blacks and whites. The burden of desegregation fell unequally on African American children. Perhaps more devastating, the city’s development plans destroyed communities. The preservers and anchors of culture were scattered and estranged by the planned destruction of the community. Hence, the African American community faced tremendous odds. As early as 1975, the African American community was physically separated by an interstate highway.
By 1979, city officials began to remove 170 families and three churches from Fifth to Seventh avenues, south and from Ninth to Sixteenth streets, to expand Campbell park. This park is the east of the Gas Plant area and Booker Creek between Elmore Avenue, South and the Interstate275 corridor. Third, Methodist town was redeveloped to meet the needs of the city. Fourth, by 1986, Gas Plant, almost a century old neighborhood was bulldozed to build a stadium. By the end of the decade, Laurel Park and its contiguous neighborhood were wiped from the face of the planet. During this period, the African American community became stratified by class. Many of the prominent and middle class families moved to the suburbs and beach communities. Hence, many poor youths had few opportunities in their community to see professional persons. Also, many networks were destroyed. All these events occurred for progress. However, one has to question whose development. One cannot underestimate the impact that the destruction of African American communities had on African American youths. The neighborhood is one of the primary socializing agents in an individual’s life.
Through the social institutions of the neighborhood, ethnicity is defined and maintained (Rohe and Gates 1985). Ormond Loomis (1983:5) writes that the interaction between relatives and close associates establishes the base from which culture attributes derive. These relationships engender a sense of identity, transmit survival skills, provide individuals a sense of continuity with the past and help them to find meaning in a shared identity (De Vos 1976; Loomis 1983). The transmission of indigenous knowledge by a community to its youth endows them with the values of the group. Without a sense of continuity, the individual exists without appropriate skills for living. Leighton (1959:149-152) argues that when cultures are in transition, psychiatric disorders may occur. He posits that without physical security, love, recognition, membership in a human group, or a place in a moral order, a person finds him or herself surrounded by vague and shifting objects. “Everything appears like everything else and nothing provides a reliable opportunity for fulfilling the patterns upon which the essential psychical conditions depends” (Leighton 1959:152). When traditional means are no longer available to affirm one’s sense of identity, alternatives are sought. If we accept this analysis, we may conclude that the current rise in crime among youths is directly related to the disruption of their neighborhoods. African Americans, perceived as a threat to tourism, led city officials to create buffers between downtown and the black community. However, the city’s plans backfired. The Suncoast Dome, renamed Thunder Dome is without a team. And many of African American youths the city sacrificed are creating havoc. They are endangering their own lives and the safety and security of citizens and tourists. However, it was the city’s love for tourist dollars and its hate and fear of African Americans that created the problems the community faces.
1. Further qualitative research is needed to explore the how the beliefs of African American adolescents differ from the ideas of their parents and the larger African American community.
2. The current distressed state of African American youth, especially males, indicates that the African American community needs to develop community based indigenous programs such as La Churasano. To ensure that the project represents the world view of the African American community, elders and those whom African Americans hold in high regard should help develop the curriculum and implement the concepts. Such schemes for youth should be incorporated into church ministries, neighborhood services, and the curricula of after-school programs and day care centers.
3. The African American community should commission an ethnography of schooling in the Pinellas County school district. This study should focus particularly on the relationship among school administrators, teachers, African American students and their parents. Also, the research should examine the expectations which school officials have concerning the achievement of African American students and how the school personnel’s presumptions either support or deny the success of the students.
4. African American parents whose students have been disproportionately suspended and classified as emotionally handicapped should bring a class action suit against the school board. It is anticipated that such action would help the school system to understand that its behavior towards African American students threatens not only the students but the well being of the African American community and the general population.
5. To reduce the adverse effects of cultural hegemony of white values on non white students, the African American community should seek legal redress with other ethnic groups to infuse multiculturalism into the school curricula. Establishing a multicultural curriculum in the school system will serve the entire student body and reduce racism.
6. A task force on busing argues that an Afrocentric curriculum at Gibbs High should be implemented. Such approach is very limited and would serve only few children. Furthermore, such intervention implies that the problem is an African American dilemma. The lack of respect for cultural diversity is a problem shared by all citizens. Also, placing an Afrocentric curriculum at Gibbs releases the school system of its responsibility of offering a culturally sensitive curriculum to all students.
7. It is crucial that the African American community join other ethnic groups and petition the district court for single-member voting districts in county elections. Single-member districts will increase African Americans access to a seat on the school board and thereby increase its diversity.
8. Black culture clubs appear to effectively reinforce a sense of being among African American students. Therefore, African American parents and concerned citizens should encourage all schools to offer Black culture clubs to students until the African American experience is totally infused in the curricula of the schools.
9. Preliminary findings suggest that too frequently television news and programs negatively portray African Americans. This study also reveals that African American adolescents are adversely affected by the media’s perception of African Americans. Therefore, African Americans should seek to address this problem. Bringing economic pressure against the management of television stations may be an effective means of ensuring more balanced reporting.
10. African American churches and organizations should remove all symbols that promote the domination of whites and the subordination of blacks. Pictures which portray Jesus as “white” should be eliminated since the data suggest that such images convey to children an idea of white supremacy and black inferiority.
11. To preserve African American neighborhoods against redevelopment schemes, the African American community should petition the state legislature to pass a law that requires that ethnohistories and impact assessments be conducted before a neighborhood can be redeveloped and its residents displaced. The research should be conducted by an independent research firm led by anthropologists. Organizations conducting the studies should be approved by the affected community. The researchers must collaborate with the residents to find solutions to their threatened status. Also, all final recommendations of the study must be approved by the threatened community members before their removal could occur. Efforts should be made to sustain relationships created within neighborhoods. Such resolution would also require that city planners treat neighbors as a collective entity rather than as individuals.
12. All city planners should be required to take a minimum of fifteen hours of anthropology before they can qualify as professionals. The African American community should petition the Florida Board of Regents to ensure that this requirement is universally applied in all Florida schools. A city planner receiving a degree elsewhere would also be required to meet such requirements before being licensed to practice in the state of Florida.
13. Historical landmarks such as the Manhattan Casino and the Melrose Club House are significant symbols of the African American community during segregation. They represent African American achievements and a sense of belonging and should be preserved. The African American community with the support of their congressional and local delegations should seek to place the Manhattan Casino and Melrose Club House on the National Registry of Historical Places. The Casino could be used as a museum that would house exhibits about African American culture. Melrose Club House continues to be used for club meetings, weddings and other social events. However, both need to be repaired. Therefore, social groups such as the fraternities and sororities should organize community members and seek funding to refurbish these historical landmarks.
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1939 “Capital of Sunshineland Awaits 250,000 Vistors.” November 5. Pp1.
1940 “Gibbs Student Hear Address by Dr. Rowe.” February 11. Pp. 1. News of Negroes of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
1940 “Gibbs High: Four-Room Annex Under Construction. March 31. Pp. 1. News of Negroes of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
1940 “St. Cecile Choir of Gibbs.” March 31. Pp. 1. News of Negroes of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
1940 “Fats Waller at Manhattan Casino.” Marhc 31. Pp. 1. News of Negroes of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
1946 “George S. Gandy Dies.” November 25. Pp. 8.
1958 “Three Bolita Suspects Tripped by Red Light.” September 1. Pp. 1. Local and National Negro News.
1958 “Spa Beach, Pool Reopens: Negro Issue Big Question Facing City.” September 3. Pp. 1 B.
1958 “Lone Negro Girl Swim at Reopened Spa Beach.” September 5. Pp. 1B.
1958 “Gibbs Students Become Accomplished Musicians.” September 9. Pp.1. Local and National Negro News.
1958 “Gibbs High School Bandbooster Club Buys Band Uniforms.” September 9. Pp.1 Local and National Negro News.
1958 “First Federated Group.” September 9. Pp. 1. Local and National Negro News.
1958 “The Ambassador Club. December 18. Pp. 1. Local and National Negro News.
1958 “Spa Injunction is Dismissed.” December 35. Pp. 1 B.
1964 “City’s Baby Book Found.” June 29. Pp. 5B.
1965 “Editorial -Rights of a Citizen. January 1. Pp. 5. 1968 “Racial Unrest Cases Dropped in Counco; lap.” March 22. Pp.1.
1968 “Predictions Vary Widely on Possibility of Riots.” April 28. Pp. 1 B &3B.
1968 “Past, Present, Future.” August 18. Pp. 2.
1968 “A Civil Emergency: No Liquor or Gas.” August 18. Pp1.
1968 “Garbage Strike Solution Scarce.” August 21. Pp.12 B.
1968 Blumfield, Cindy. “City’ Racial Problems Soluable, Bax Declares,” August 22. Pp. 1 B.
1968 “March Set Today.” August 22. Pp. 1.
1968 “Waller Given 270-Day Term on 3 Charges.” August 27. Pp. 1.
1968 “Extra Police Cost $150,000 Since Garbage Strike.” August 28. Pp.1.
1968 “116-Day Garbage Dispute is Settled.” August. 29. Pp. 1.
1968 “Tear Gas Used on Mob.” October 30. Pp. 3.
1969 “Waller Appeal: Decision Awaited.” June 24. Pp. 1B.
1969 “Waller Case Goes to Top U. S. Court.” June 24. Pp.1 B & 3B.
1972 “Ordinance in Waller Case.” April 15. Pp.1.
1972 “Larceny Conviction.” November 24. P1 B.
1972 “Waller Gets Jail Sentence.” December 5. Pp. 1 B & 3B.
1973 Editorial “Times (And Sensitivities) Change.” May 20. Pp. 2B.
1974 “City Council Renames Methodist Town.” January 29. 1 B.
1974 “Jamestown Vote Set August 6.” June 20. Pp1.
1974 “New Homes Too High for Most.” June 20. Pp.1.
1974 “Urban Renewal Plan Set for Jamestown.” June 21. Pp. 1B.
1974 “New Homes Too High For Most.” June 20. Pp. 1.
1974 “Jamestown Residents: No Break.” June 25. Pp.1B.
1974 “Jamestown Pianners Crimped by Finances.” July 8. Pp. 1
1975 “The James of Jamestown Faces Loss of Home There. May 20. Pp.1.
1975 “City Officials Pleased With Jamestown.” December 10. Pp. 3.
1976 “Jamestown ‘Mayor’ Praises Redevelopment.” December 14.Pp.1.
1977 “Campbell Park Decision May be Soon.” August 16. Pp. 1.
1979 “Gas Plant Residents Fear Appraisals Won’t Reflect Fair Market Value of Their Homes.” May 8 Pp.1
1979 “Park Expansion Snafu.” December 8. Pp.1
1980 To Be Black and To Live in St. Petersburg.
1981 “Residents Await Expansion of Campbell Park.” January 25. Pp. 1.
1982 “Blacks Most Frequently Disciplined Group.” February 26. Pp. 1.
1982 “A Tireless Teacher.” March 24. Pp.1.
1983 “Man Known As Pinellas First Native Born Black Male Became Respected Engineer.” November 2. Pp. 1.
1983 “Gas Plant Life: Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams.” November 14. 1B & 8B.
1984 “Black Society: Past and Present.” January 17. Pp. 1 D & 8D.
1984 “Black Pioneers Helped Build St. Petersburg.” May 24. Pp. 1
1984 Hooker, Robert 100 Years: St. Petersburg Times.
1986 “Downtown — A Seven-Year Saga.” June 16. Pp. 1D.
1989 “Laurel Park Deal Deep in Extra Innings.” December 26. Pp. 1 & 10.
1990 “City Told to Stop Laurel Park Move.” May 5. Pp. 1.
1990 “Parkway Changing City’s Face.” July 2. Pp. 1. & 3.
1 990 “Dome Cost Estimates Weren’t in the Ballpark.” August 5. Pp. 1 B & 6B.
1990 “Police Policy Debated.” October 5. Pp. 1.
1990 “St. Petersburg No. 8 With Retirees.” October 16. Pp1.
1990 “A Gentle Warrior.” October 16. Pp. 1D &D.
1990 Caldwell, Alicia. “Trying to End the Drug Cycle.” October 30. Pp. 1.
1990 “Top Cop Takes Aim at Crime.” November 1, Pp. 1.
1990 “Dusting Off the Welcome Mat.” November 1. Pp.1.
1991 “Busing Plan to Be Reviewed.” January 24. Pp.1B.
1991 “Busing Study’s Mission Unclear.” January 25. Pp. 1 B & 5B.
1991 “Population Boomed in 1980s.” January 26. Pp. 1B & 5B.
1991 “Moving Called Key to Integration.” January 28. Pp. 1.
1991 “Gibbs High Surrounded by Fence.” January 31. Pp. 1.
1991 “Memory of Teacher to Take Center Stage.” February 2. Pp1.
1991 “Bay Plaza appears in Trouble.” February 22. Pp. 1.
1991 “Has Busing Outlived Its Usefulness?” February 22. Pp.1B & 6B.
1991 “Dome Marks First Birthday.” March 3. Pp. 1A.
1991 “Florida and the 1990 Census.” March 6. Pp. 1A.
1991″Integration Makes Little Progress,” March 13. Pp. 1B & 6B.
1991 “What the Census Shows.” March 24. Pp. 1 & 3.
1991 “Our Shifting Population.” March 31. Pp. 25A.
1991 “Suspensions Aren’t Limited to Northeast.” April 1. Pp.1 & 3.
1991 “Bay Plaza Officials Face City Grilling.” April 9. Pp.1 B.
1991 Peterman, Peggy. “A Model Program in the Making.” August 13.1D & 4D.
1991 Caldwell, Alicia and Will Rodgers, “Police Backs Class, Union Heads Says” December 21, Pp.1 B.
1991 “Police Chief is a Dropout in Sensitivity.” December 21, Pp. 1 B
1991 Caldwell, Alicia, Will Rodgers and Stephens Koff “Honeymoon Over for Police Chief.” December 22. Pp. 1.
1992 “Curtsinger Reinstates Sensitivity Training.” January 8, Pp.1.
1992 “Where You Learn: Perkins Elementary.” January 8. Pp. 1.
1992 “Police Chief Makes Case To Regain Trust.” Pp.1 & 6 B.
1992 “Chief Defends Minority Records.” January 10. Pp.1 B.
1992 “Authority Has Run Out of Money.” February 8, Pp.1 & 3. Pp. 1.
1992 “Black Officers Critical of Police Union Stance.” March 13. Pp.1 B & 6B.
1992 “Compromise is Sought on City Charter.” March 13. Pp.1 & 2.
1992 “Reducing Tension in the Schools.” March 19, Pp. 2.
1992 “Charter Vote Will be June 16. March 27, Pp.1 & 3.
1992 Gosier, Elijah. “Bad Suprise at Good School.” April 25. Pp.1B.
1992 “SCLC Leader Claims Police Harassment.” May 2. Pp. 1.
1992 “Residents Say They Feel Racial Tensions.” May 17. Pp.1 B &7B.
1992 “Patterns of Wealth.” May 17. Pp.1A & 9A.
1992 “Groups Join to Fight City Charter Change.” May 20. Pp.1 &3.
1992 “Cate Seeks Harmony in Discord.” May 28. Pp.1B & 7B.
1992 “Curtsinger Deal is Sealed; Both Sides Feel Cheated.” June 2. Pp. 1A & 4A.
1992 “McRae’s Lot Was Cast Behind the Scenes.” June 3. Pp.1 B & 6B.
1992 “Bethel Metropolitan Church.” June 10. Pp.1.
1992 “Bill Goes for Empty Dome.” June 10. Pp.1 B & 7B.
1992 “Busing Case Returned to Court.” June 11. Pp.1.
1992 “City to Set Aside $250,000 for Teen Jobs. June 12. Pp.1 & 3.
1992 “Youths Say What’s on Their Minds. June 14. Pp.1 B & 7B.
1992 “Civil Rights Low Mark Angers Officials.” June 17. Pp.1 & 3.
1992 “We Saw What We Saw; It was Wrong.” June 22. Pp. 2. Opinion Letters.
1992 Peterman, Peggy. “Reading, Writing and Retirement.” June 23, Pp.1 D.
1992 “Publix Threatened With Boycott.” June 24. Pp.1 E.
1992 “Schools See Sharp Rise in Suspensions.” July 5. Pp1 & 7.
1992 “Curtsinger Starts New Job.” July 7. Pp.1 & 3.
1992 “This Diamond Will Cost Millions More.” August 8. Pp.10A.
1992 “If its Says Giants, It’s Hot.” August 8. Pp.1 B. 1992 “S. F. Official Outline Plan for New Stadium.” August 14. Pp.1A.
1992 “The Home Field Advantage.” August 17. Pp. 1B.
1992 “Serious Crime is No Dome Deal.” August 17. Pp. 1.
1992 “Bond Rating Could Improve.” August 19. Pp. 3A.
1992 “Stadium Plans Relies on Funds and Faith. August 30. Pp. 1A & 2A.
1992 “Dome Deal Is Short on Reality.” September 13. Pp. 1D & 5D.
1992 “Big Change Suggested for Busing in Pinellas.” December 12. Pp.1A.
1992 Janice Martin, “Dropout Numbers Still High.” December 20. Pp.1
1993 “What if There Were No Busing?” January 3. Pp. 1 &3.
1993 “An Interview with Curt Curtsinger.” March 14. Pp.1 & 4.
1993 “House Falls to Make Way for Dome.” March 30. Pp. 1 & 3.
1993 “NAACP Warns Against Changes to Busing Plan.” May 28. Pp1 B & 5B.
The Tampa Tribune
1989 Weston, Bonnie. HUD Approves Sale, Demolition of Laurel Park. September 27. P 1 B & 2B.
1990 Stebbins, John. “St. Pete’s Poor Relocated Without Federal Approval.” May 5. Pp. 1A & 7A.
1990 Stebbins, John. “Laurel Park’s End May Spell Doom fo Dome Deal.” May 9. Pp.1B & 9B.
1990 Stebbins, John. “Laurel Park Residents Seek Inquiry into Director.” Pp. 1B&4B.
1990 Stebbins, John. “Director Calls Halt to Moves.” May 5. Pp. 1 B & 8B.
1990 Stebbins, John. “Government Approves Sale of Laurel Park. June 21. Pp. 1B.
1990 Stebbins, John. “Laurel Park Sale Ok’d by Authority.” June 22. Pp. 1 B.
1992 “Alliance Oppose Curtsinger Rehiring.” Pp. 1.
The Weekly Challenger
Williams, l. W.
1992 “The Vanishing African-American Teacher: Part I- 3. October & November. Pp. 1.
1992 “Give the Chief a Chance.” January 11, Pp1.
1992 “St. Petersburg, A City that Lost Its Way.” June 20. Pp.1.
The Evening Independent
1968 “Streets Quiet In Early Dawn.” August 17. Pp. 1. 1977 “Back Page.” June 7. Pp. 12A.
Telephone Interview with Jon Bedore, Pinellas County Coroner, July 19, 1991 to discuss morbidity and mortality statistics of young African Americans.
Archival Documents and Special Collections
Blacks Against Dangerous Drugs (BADD). Mission Statement St. Petersburg.
Chamber of Commerce “1989 St. Petersburg.” Blake Publishing Company.
City of St. Petersburg Planning Department. 1958 Supplement to Population Profile: A Study of the Past, Present, and Future Population of St. Petersburg, Florida 1955.
City Of St. Petersburg Planning Department.
Gas Plant Redevelopment Plan.
Jamestown Redevelopment Plan
Population Profiles of St.Petersburg 1950,1957,1964-1965, 1966, 969, 1971, and 1972.
1976 Special Census Data Report.
Dunn, Hampton n.d. “Photouring Florida.” Tampa, Florida.
Gibson, Patricia 1986 Suspension and Corporal Punishment 1985-86: Pinellas County Schools. unpublished report.
Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County.
1992 Analysis of Black Male Yoth in Pinellas County Aged 16 through 19 By Census Tract.
1985 Corporal Punishment: Institutional Abuse in the Public Schools. St. Petersburg.
1991 Social Indicator Report. August: 12 (1).
1993 Social Indicator Report August: 14 (1).
1993 Social Indiactor Report. August: 14 (2).
Lodwick, John 1941 St. Petersburg, Florida: Tourist Registration by Cities and States. St. Petersburg: Chamber of Commerce.
Miller, D. J. and Associates 1990 Disparity Study: City of St. Petersburg. Atlanta, Georgia.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. 1989 Arrest Data July 89 – December 89 (Including Annual Totals.).
Pinellas County Schools. Suspension and Corporal Punishment From August 29, 1983 to June 8, 1984.
Suspension and Corporal Punishment From August 25. 1988 to June 7, 1989. 1988-89 Dropout Report. Clearwater, Florida.
The Methodist Town Pioneers. First Annual Reunion Program. June 8-10, 1 990.
Polk City Directory. 1933, 1941, 1951, 1961, 1971, 1981,
University of South Florida Special Collections on St. Petersburg.
FACTS CONCERNING THE FINANCIAL
STATE OF THE DOME
1. Legal costs during construction rose to $638,000 by August, 1990. Several lawsuits were filed against the project.
2. The cost of the search for sports franchises to lease the Dome was $162,000 by August,1990.
3. The average annual debt payments on the stadium is $10.1 million. By the year 2003, it is expected to drop approximately to $7.4 million. The city and Pinellas county share the cost. St. Petersburg’s total will be about $6.5-million over the next the 13 years. The debt is paid from sales and taxes on the tourist industry.
4. The city’s most likely estimate on the taxpayers’ subsidy to operate the stadium each year will be about $2.5-million — without a Major League Baseball franchise. With a team, the subsidy is expected to drop to about $1.5-million.
6. The total debt on the stadium, with interest is $235-million.
7. The taxpayers were originally told that the Dome would cost $85-million.
8. City Manager, Robert Obering argued that the costs increased because he did not ask the architect the right questions.
9. The city built the stadium on a “fast track.” This schedule helped to mask much of the final cost during the public debate concerning the project wrote the St. Petersburg Times. Construction started before the design of the Dome was completed.
10. In 1986, the City Council approved the first bond issue. The second issue was approved in 1989 for Dome cost over-runs. Although, public officials knew in1986 that the Dome would cost more than initially projected. However, no one mentioned this information during five public hearings.
Source: St. Petersburg Times, “Dome Financial Facts,” August 5, 1990.
A HISTORICAL TIMELINE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN ST. PETERSBURG
1868 John Donaldson and Anna Germain became the first known African descendants to arrive in St. Petersburg.
1871 John Donaldson bought 40 acres of land.
1888 Ten African American men settled in Petersburg after helping to build the Orange Belt railroad. They settled along Fourth Avenue, South between Seventh and Ninth Streets. The settlement became known as Pepper Town.
1890 Federal Census identified 273 persons living in the area that is now St. Petersburg.
1893 St. Petersburg was incorporated as a town.
1903 St. Petersburg was incorporated as a city. Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church established in the Gas Plant. Initially members met in their homes until they could purchase the land and build the church. The church was located at the corner of 1 0th Street and Third Avenue, South until 1985 when displaced by the development of the Florida Suncoast Dome.
1903 First meeting of the City Council was held.
1912 An all-white primary held.
1914 John Evans, an African American male was Iynched at corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue.
1918 Florida and St. Petersburg were “discovered” by thousands of tourists. A real estate boom began.
1920s African Americans from Georgia and Alabama were recruited to construct office buildings, homes, churches, bridges, and streets.
1921 African Americans comprised 554 of the 4106 registered voters. They were identified as Colored.
1924 Gandy Bridge connected St. Petersburg to Tampa. Many African Americans participated in building the bridge. A St. Petersburg Times editorial suggested that Negroes were a few generations removed from savagery.
1925 The Boom peaked. James Earl “Doc” Webb opened a drugstore at the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue. First Institutional Baptist Church sold him the land.
1927 African Americans comprised 9,538 of the total population of 14,327 in St. Petersburg in 1920. From 1920 until 1927 the population grew by 2345.
1927 Gibbs High School was established. Originally, it was built as a elementary school for white Americans in St. Petersburg. The 1925 real estate bust led to its use for African American high school students.
1930 Of a total of 751 employees hired by the city of St. Petersburg, 205 were Colored. No Colored persons were employed in the police and fire departments. The majority were involved with the Departments of Public Works, Health and Hospital.
1931 The city charter indicated that one of St. Petersburg’s primary was to set apart a separate residential and business district for Negroes and whites.
1935 St. Petersburg Times published the “Negro news page.” The newspaper editorialized that Negroes fitted in and were needed for the work they performed.
1936 City Council unanimously approved a resolution that required African Americans to live in a seventeen block area west of Seventeenth Street and south of Sixth Street.
1937 African Americans defied threats from the Klans who paraded through section of the city. The Klan attempted to prevent them from voting. Instead African Americans turned out in record numbers and voted. J. C. “Honeybabe” Moses killed two police and was later killed by a mob who openly displayed his body on the grounds of a funeral home.
1938 Gibbs High school principal, Noah Griffin and several teachers were attacked for picnicking in the predominantly white American neighborhood of Shore Acres.
1940 The first phase of Jordan Park was completed and tenants moved in.
1948 The “Negro Page” was published daily by the St. Petersburg Times.
1940-56 City of St. Petersburg owned WTSP radio station.
1951 The St. Petersburg Times hired a fulltime African American reporter.
1961 St. Petersburg Junior college was desegregated.
1960-62 African Americans picketed and led sit-ins for the integration of Spa Beach, Bayfront Medical Center and lunch counters.
1962 Some of the secondary schools in Pinellas County were desegregated.
1965 The St. Petersburg Times disclosed that financial irregularities existed in the records of Gibbs Junior College. This disclosure led to the closing of the college.Samuel Adams, an African American reporter for The Times was the lead writer. He was criticized by many African Americans who perceived that he had been used by the white establishment.
1968 Sanitation workers fed a strike against the city for better wages and benefits.
1969 Bette Wimbish became the first African American elected to the City Council.
1971 The Pinellas County School Board was ordered to desegregate its schools. No African Americans were represented on the school board.
1972 The Gas Plant area had a population 2,315. The labor force comprised of 961 persons and 859 were employed. Another 102 individuals did not have jobs. The community had a 11% unemployment rate.
1973 During June, the City Council had Milo Smith and Associates to prepare an “Intown Development Plan.” This plan recommended that the Gas Plant area be redeveloped with industries.
1975 Florida Department of Transportation began relocating 1,000 families to accomodate the building of Interstate 275. A vast majority of those families were African Americans. Industrial employment in Pinellas county fell from 34,000 in 1974 to 29,000 in 1975.
1976 Industrial employment comprised 16% of the employment in Pinellas county (30,700 persons). The majority of the jobs were in retail and service industries.
1978 The City Council determined the Gas Plant area was blighted and a slum. The City Council declared its body the St. Petersburg Redevelopment agency. It resolved that the redevelopment or rehabilitation and conservation of that area was necessary in the interest of public health, safety morals, or welfare of the residents of St. Petersburg. Three hundred and seventy six families lived in the Gas Plant Area. Many residents had lived in the area more than 40 years. The average lenght of occupancy was 12 years.
1986 July 24, the St. Petersburg City Council voted 6-3 to build a downtown domed stadium. Eight days earlier, then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth wrote a letter to the city that said, “In our evaluation of potential cities for relocation or expansion, St. Petersburg is not among the top candidates.” Disregarding the letter, the city built the Dome and wooed the baseball commission. The city administrators and the Chamber of Commerce seemed confident that St. Petersburg would acquire an expansion team. Instead June 10,1991, baseball commission Fay Vincent announced that Miami and Denver would get the expansion teams. When Jeff Smulyan placed the Seattle Mariners for sale during the fall of 1991, St. Petersburg’s city officials attempted to buy the team. However, Nintendo, a Japanese company bought the Mariners and kept the team in Seatte. Initially the Ownership Committee fueled the hopes of St. Petersburg by suggesting that foreign investors could not purchase an American baseball team. Also, a year to the date after announcing that no team would expand to St. Petersburg, the Ownership Committee voted to allow Nintendo to invest $75 millions ( Bob Harig, St. Petersburg Times: 6.1 0.92).
1990 Laurel Park, a low income apartment was razed.
1992 Don McRae, Interim City manager fired Chief of Police Ernest Curtsinger. Racial tensions increased.
1993 The residents of St. Petersburg voted to change the city charter. The mayor became the chief administrative officer. Previously the final decisions in city government were made by the city manager. The city demolished Mrs. Louise Macon’s home to make way for a parking lot for the Florida Suncoast Dome.