A new memorial in downtown St. Petersburg is a call to action to never again allow racial hatred and injustice occur in the city.
That was the message of a half-dozen speakers Tuesday morning as Pinellas Remembers unveiled a memorial at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 2nd Avenue South, at the site of the 1914 lynching of John Evans.
The north side of the memorial tells Evans’ story.
The south side of the memorial traces the history of lynching in America, including more than 316 lynchings in Florida between 1877 and 1950.
“Let us bring something positive out of their deaths first by remembering that it happened; two, by accepting the fact of it happening; three, by agreeing it will never happen again,” said Jacqueline Hubbard, co-chairman of Pinellas Remembers, a coalition to bear witness to the legacy of racial terror in America. “The purpose for the memorial is not just to remember them. It is to spur us on, to have a community-wide discussion on how we end the violence and how we come together in racial reconciliation.”
Evans was the protégé of Loomis Williams, recalled Rev. Pierre Williams, Loomis’ grandson.
“As a child, I promised my father that I would never forget that this noble man, what he was to our family and to Methodist Town,” Williams said. “”He was a man who gave food to the poor, money to the poor, greetings to the poor. That was John Evans.”
Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, admitted he had never heard of John Evans or heard about the racial history in St. Petersburg until a few years ago.
“The history of racism in this nation has been whitewashed to so many of us, particularly those who look like me,” Auld said. “We cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot sweep it under the rug. We can’t ignore it. We can’t just move on and leave it in the past. We’ve tried that and know it isn’t working … The Equal Justice Initiative reminds us we must learn from it, wrestle with it, stare it in the eyes and take steps to ensure it never happens again.”
St. Petersburg cannot move forward without remembering the past, said Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“It is incumbent on us as city leaders to call out not just the injustices of today but to recognize the horrors and injustices of the past as well … As leaders working together to build a city where there is opportunity for all, we must call out inequity, bigotry, hatred and racism wherever we see it and whenever we see it,” Kriseman said.
White supremacy that led to racial terror is still alive in our society, cautioned Randy Russell, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. But the city has begun to take the steps needed to change the future, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who delivered her remarks in iambic meter, citing the strong legacy of poetry in the Black community.
“Today St. Pete we’ve told the truth. It guides our way,” Tomalin said.