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Was Thursday’s Black History flag-raising event St. Pete’s last?

Mark Parker

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From left: County Commissioner Renee Flowers; Councilmember Ed Montanari; Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz; Councilmember Copley Gerdes; Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders; Mayor Ken Welch; and Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum of Florida stand in front of the St. Petersburg City Hall flagpole Thursday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Mayor Ken Welch, city officials and community leaders gathered at St. Petersburg’s City Hall Thursday morning for the ninth annual Black History Month flag-raising ceremony. State legislation jeopardizes a decennial celebration.

The tradition began in 2016 under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. It celebrates the start of Black History Month with a ceremonial raising of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson flag, who, in 1926, launched the annual observance of Negro History Week during the first week of February.

During Thursday’s city council meeting, Councilmember Richie Floyd noted that the ceremony may not return in 2025. State Republicans have advanced a bill that could ban government entities from displaying most flags.

“No matter what happens in Tallahassee, we are St. Pete,” Welch said. “You can change how we celebrate, but you can’t change our core beliefs.”

The House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee recently passed House Bill 901 by a 9-5 vote along party lines. The proposed legislation must pass one more committee before the full Republican super-majority chamber considers enacting it into law.

The initiative would ban government organizations and facilities from displaying flags representing a “racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.” It would also prohibit government employees from wearing related lapel pins while on the job.

Republican Rep. Devid Borrero, who authored the bill, called it “wholly inappropriate” to showcase “those types of flags” in government buildings. Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black and gay, called the legislation “authoritarianism” and “fascism at its best.”

Welch took a more measured approach. He said local officials would closely monitor the situation and encourage lawmakers to “address real problems” when they visit the Capitol next week.

“We’ve been doing this so long in the city – it’s not an issue,” Welch added. “It reflects what our city is about.”

Welch said he met with homeowners Wednesday who shared their increasing flooding and sea-level rise concerns. He said housing costs and soaring insurance rates also demand the Legislature’s attention, not “how folks celebrate who we are.”

Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of St. Petersburg’s Woodson African American Museum of Florida, began her presentation by noting the phrase “indivisible and justice for all” survived multiple Pledge of Allegiance drafts and modifications. However, Scott said she represented a race and culture historically excluded from those concepts.

Terri Lipsey Scott (right), executive director of the Woodson African American Museum, motions towards a rendering of a new facility in a redeveloped Historic Gas Plant District.

“Today, we are faced with the potential criminalization of gatherings like this,” Scott said. “For raising a flag in honor of the father of Black history – for which we will not be deterred.”

She expressed pride in a city that celebrates Black history, and supports building a proper home for the Woodson Museum. Scott credited Welch for making a significantly expanded facility a focal point of the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment.

Scott said that indicates the institution is “no longer an afterthought, but a catalyst for inclusion.” She called building a state-of-the-art Black history museum a novel idea in many municipalities. “In St. Petersburg, it has been discussed and planned by the Woodson for over half a decade,” Scott added.

Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders said Black History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on previous struggles. She praised the sacrifices and bravery of African American men, women and children – and their allies – who resisted Jim Crow-era laws.

Figgs-Sanders stressed that Black and American history are inherently intertwined. She also said the Woodson flag highlights that “our greatest moments in history are yet to come.”

“Even though we’ve accomplished some things that many thought we couldn’t, we still have empty pages to write,” Figgs-Sanders said. “With our future ahead of us and our ancestors behind us, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

Local leaders and stakeholders watch as Mayor Ken Welch raises the Carter G. Woodson flag.

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ed Haskell

    February 11, 2024at1:47 pm

    Thank God for leadership!
    The only flags that belong on those poles are for municipalities …. Definitely don’t need to be cowtailing to a couple fringe groups that put themselves above the collective

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    February 3, 2024at12:05 pm

    Anything politicians can spoil, they will spoil. We will find a way to honor our struggle to be seen as human.

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