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Request to install lynching memorial approved by the city

Jaymi Butler

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Lynching memorial
The memorial will share the story of John Evans, a Dunnellon man who was lynched before a crowd of 1,500 in St. Petersburg in 1914.

The City of St. Petersburg’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission unanimously approved a request to install a memorial marker at the site of a gruesome lynching in 1914.

The two-sided marker will be installed at the northwest corner of the intersection of Ninth Street – now Martin Luther King Jr. Street – and Second Ave South. One side of the marker will explain the history of lynching in America. The other will share the story of John Evans, a Dunnellon man who was lynched before a crowd of 1,500 after being accused of murdering St. Pete real estate developer Ed Sherman and attacking his wife. Evans was never identified and never received a trial.

An excerpt from the proposed text for the memorial described the lynching and the terror that followed:

As Mr. Evans struggled to hold himself aloft, a white woman shot him from her car, inciting the crowd to fire upon him for more than ten minutes. White mobs then terrorized the Black community for days in search of an alleged accomplice, Ebenezer Tobin. At least 170 Black residents fled their homes for safety. Mr. Tobin was later found and tried by an all-white jury, becoming the first person legally hanged in Pinellas County in October 1915. No one was held accountable for Mr. Evans’ lynching due to the impunity granted by racial hierarchy in St. Petersburg.


Related content: Lynching memorial marker planned for St. Pete


Derek Kilborn, manager of the city’s urban planning and historic preservation division, said that although the interest in creating the memorial may appear to be a response to current events, the roots for the idea have been in place since 2015. That’s when the city, while working on a road improvement project on Central Avenue, discovered a small metal plate at the base of a utility pole memorializing Evans’ lynching. The plate is currently on loan to the Florida Holocaust Museum as part of its Beaches, Benches and Boycotts exhibit, Kilborn said.

Efforts to create a more permanent memorial gained traction with when the Pinellas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition got involved. The coalition, which includes partners from across Pinellas County, is dedicated to advocacy and education surrounding lynchings with the goal of bringing about equity and healing. The coalition has since joined forces with the national nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, which will cover the cost of memorial as part of its efforts to create spaces to address the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation. The marker is scheduled to be installed on Nov. 12, the anniversary of Evans’ death.

Memorial marker

The marker will look similar to this one, located in Orlando.

Jacqueline Hubbard, a retired attorney and co-chair of the coalition, said the memorial will have great meaning for the community.

“It will remind people of some of the struggles that African Americans have gone through and survived,” she said. “I hope this marker will serve as an educational tool in fostering racial reconciliation and conversation.”

Gwendolyn Reese, a member of the Community Planning and Preservation Commission and coalition co-chair, said this initiative is about more just a memorial.

“We want to educate the community,” she said, adding that the coalition and the EJI also plan to sponsor essay and art contests for high school students to advance the dialog around racial issues.

Commission member Sharon Winters praised the initiative.

“This is an important action to take,” she said. “It’s about continuing the conversation and educating those who don’t know the stories. It’s a wonderful opportunity for reconciliation.” 

Once the request passed unanimously, Reese took a moment to express her gratitude.

“You can’t see it, but I have tears in my eyes and a smile on my face,” she said. “Thank you so much for your understanding of the importance of this marker.”

 

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