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Waveney Ann Moore: Celebrating Minson Rubin, archivist of St. Pete Black history

Waveney Ann Moore

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Ann Taylor, left, and Minson Rubin had been friends since childhood. She played a role in arranging for St. Petersburg College to take Mr. Rubin's collection. Diana Bryson, right, assistant curator of St. Petersburg College Foundation, is heading the research, preservation and display of the collection. Photo: Waveney Ann Moore.

He sought donations of old basketball jerseys, shoes and other sports memorabilia from his alma mater.

He collected yearbooks, photographs, old newspapers, diplomas and awards, anything to preserve the history of a period in the city’s African-American history.

Self-appointed archivist, longtime Pinellas County educator, basketball coach and mentor, Minson Rubin was determined that stories of his people, their achievements and values, close-knit neighborhoods and treasured educational institutions be lauded and preserved.

His commitment seems prescient. Development in the name of progress has meant that some of the very streets on which he and his contemporaries traveled and buildings in which they lived, worshipped or nurtured their businesses are no more.

Minson and Jeanette Rubin. Family photo.

Mr. Rubin, who died at the beginning of Black History Month two years ago, wanted to provide proof of those times and places for future generations.

His seemingly modest contribution of such evidence is not insignificant, given the current trend toward dismissal, even outright denial, of well documented human atrocities such as the Holocaust, slavery and its repercussions.

On Feb. 26, Rubin’s life’s work will be honored along the Deuces – the heart of the city’s historic African-American community – with events at St. Petersburg College’s Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center and Cecil B. Keene, Sr. Student Achievement Center.

Mayor Ken Welch, St. Petersburg College president Dr. Tonjua Williams and Police Chief Anthony Holloway are all expected.

The Rubin collection is now resident at the college, where a portion is on display at the Downtown and Midtown centers. For now, fragile documents and artifacts are being archived and in the process of being digitized for future use. Additionally, 3D models will be created of some items.

Diana Bryson, assistant curator of St. Petersburg College Foundation, is heading the research, preservation and display of the Rubin collection. 

“Without him, a lot of information would have been lost,” she said. “He collected everything that he could. He was resourceful.”

As part of the project, Bryson interviewed Dr. Bill McCloud, president of the Gibbs Junior College Alumni Association and a longtime friend of Mr. Rubin. She also spoke with Ann Taylor, a friend since childhood, and former Police Chief Goliath Davis and deputy mayor for Midtown economic development under Mayor Rick Baker.

“I think I learned that obviously he was a son of St. Petersburg, and he was a man of his house at a young age. He was someone who had a very powerful presence,” Bryson said.

He used that presence, she added, “to rally support to teach about the important things he wanted to resonate with people. He was someone who really, really benefited from his strong foundations and taking care of his family.”

This week, Bryson joined Taylor on the second floor of the Jamerson Center to talk about some of the photographs in the Rubin collection.

“Let me introduce you to the Robert James Hotel,” Taylor said, pointing to a black and white photo of the segregation-era hotel established by Dr. Robert Swain. It no longer stands.

“That hotel was one of the only ones we had in our area where musicians and others could go if they didn’t stay with people. But this housed the first remote radio station and that’s where my father’s programs were.”

A photo of her father, the Rev. Goldie Thompson, hangs nearby. He brought gospel singers such as James Cleveland to St. Petersburg for his religious program, which ran on a radio station based in Tampa.

Taylor, a past president of the St. Petersburg Museum of History board of trustees, played a role in St. Petersburg College accepting the Rubin collection. She explained that she and then assistant provost Myrtle Williams approached Dr. Bill Law about the possibility soon after he was hired as college president in 2010. The collection was officially donated in 2015.

Like Rubin, Taylor lived in Jordan Park. Her family later moved to a home on 15th Avenue S, but the two remained lifelong friends. She understood his commitment to their shared history.

“He always spoke about – he didn’t use the exact term preservation – that we need to keep this alive. People will never understand what it is like to be raised in segregation and to have fought to make it out. You have to have, not only your words, but the pictures, writings, to speak for you in case you’re not here,” she said.

Mr. Rubin taught physical education and health and was a basketball coach with the Pinellas County School District for 33 years.

A graduate of the segregated Gibbs High School class of 1963, he attended Gibbs Junior College before going on to earn a degree in education from Florida A&M University. He was the co-founder of the Gibbs Sports Hall of Fame and president of the Gibbs Gladiator Alumni Association.

“Rubin’s genius was collecting artifacts in the segregation era that will serve as a window to the past and inform the present and the future” Davis said. “And it will let future generations see what life was like in Jordan Park, in the African-American community and the city at large. He provided just a point of departure for our young people who didn’t live that experience and did not understand it.”

This week, as she stood in the corridor where the Rubin photographs hung, Taylor noted that it’s become too easy to deny unpleasant history and try to stifle discussion of it.

“Every human being that lived through segregation, that lived through the Holocaust, that lived through any type of atrocities that were inflicted on them and they had no power to do otherwise, need and should tell their story,” she said.

“Even if people wish not to hear it, because they have sensitive ears. Or they feel guilt. Or, as they say they don’t wish – and this is no offense to anyone – they don’t want their children to feel bad or guilty reading it, I didn’t want my children to feel bad suffering it. And if we can stop this from happening again by telling the story, it’s worth it … Black children specifically need their own heroes in their own neighborhood so they can feel good about themselves and where they came from.”

Jeanette Rubin had a simple answer when asked what motivated her husband to build his collection that honors the Black community: “He didn’t want our history to be lost. He wanted that history to live on, so people would know our history, especially young folks.”

She’s pleased his commitment is being recognized. “His heart would be very happy,” she said.

 

Minson R. Rubin Day

Feb. 26, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., starting at St. Petersburg College Cecil B. Keene Student Achievement Center, 1048 22nd St S, where a proclamation will be read and a mural by Zulu Painter unveiled. Gibbs High School Marching Band will lead the way to nearby Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center for tours of the Rubin Collection, an art exhibition and other activities: story time for children; the Nomad Art Bus; food for sale from Midtown establishments; and the distribution of free new books through a partnership with Cultured Books. Donate to the book drive by shopping the official list at https://bookshop.org/lists/minson-r-rubin-day-book-drive. Deadline is Feb. 15. For information, contact St. Petersburg College Foundation assistant curator Diana Bryson, bryson.diana@spcollege.edu

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Gregory Johnson

    February 4, 2022at10:20 am

    Outstanding to recognize and appreciate the VALUE of our past in confirming our Present while Building for a solid Future.
    There is MUCH work to be done FOR ALL and by ALL. I wish I could be present to celebrate with everyone on this momentous occasion in planting seeds of CHARACTER for the perceived DISADVANTAGED.

    I miss St. Pete. Absolutely wonderful people as residents of GOOD!!!

  2. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    February 4, 2022at4:32 pm

    I love this story. This is the type of story we need more of in St. Pete. A courageous person doing courageous things during a challenging time. Now, when it’s needed most this meaningful story appears. Thank you Waveney Ann Moore and others who contributed to it.

  3. Avatar

    Jack N Fletcher Jr.

    February 4, 2022at6:19 pm

    The legacy of Minson Rubin is alive and is resonated in the organization named “Men of Yesterday, Today, and The Future Inc. A community services group, where he was a founding member. The group can be found at moytf.org on the web. The vision of Minson was in community involvement and he found like-minded men to associate with, Minson, always the archivist, served as the group’s first secretary. The group is still very active, currently mentoring 55 young men in Pinellas County Schools. To help keep the memory of Minson Rubin vibrant, join us in our quest as we “strive to empower and improve our community”.

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