African-American history in South St. Petersburg dates back over 150 years. The area known today as Midtown is a community full of native residents who have passed down stories from generation to generation. But, as people pass and memories fade, so can the rich history which lies there.
Journalism students at USF St. Petersburg realized that as they faced challenges researching the history of black neighborhoods in the area. The students who work in a newsroom under Dr. Bernardo Motta called the Neighborhood News Bureau began collecting oral histories and photos from local residents.
Their work led them to developing the first South St. Petersburg Black History website and database.
The goal is to create a space where community members, researchers and journalists can easily access black history from South St. Petersburg while crediting and sharing information from the original sources.
Nikki Gaskin-Capehart is a native of St. Petersburg and the Director of Urban Affairs for the city.
“It’s always been a challenge to try and get that information in one centrally located place,” said Capehart. “We have some libraries that have some great information, but it’s always good to be able to add to that.”
The website includes a digital story mapping tool, searchable database, oral histories, documentaries, photos and a timeline.
Andrea Perez is one of the students who worked on the project. She explains that navigating through the website is simple. The digital story mapping tool allows people to click on specific locations and learn about it’s past.
“If you click on the dot located on 11th Street South, a picture of Enoch Douglas Davis, who was a community activist who also served as a pastor for over 50 years, will appear on the screen,” said Perez. “Interesting, also on the screen is the current community center named after him.”
Directly below the aerial map is a timeline that begins in 1943 and ends in the present. That tool allows people to navigate the map either by era or by populating the two African-American Heritage Trails with historic locations.
Some of those places are no longer standing, including Pioneer Schools, the Royal Theater and the Manhattan Casino.
Capehart stressed how critical this project is not just to her, but especially to the community.
“It’s so important for our young people to understand the history and the culture from which they came,” said Capehart.
The history of South St. Petersburg doesn’t only teach people about it's black history, but about America as a whole.
“We are definitely a snapshot, if you will, of the country at large. Some of the same challenges we have here, we see across the country,” said Capehart.
Additionally, journalism students at USFSP learn important research and investigative skills which they can apply in their future careers.
“As a journalist, there’s nothing more gratifying than understanding how storytelling shapes history every day,” said Perez. “Professionally, I know now how to engage with people that have a very different backgrounds from myself.”
The website is an ongoing project and will allow students and community members to continue adding information related to the African-American history of South St. Pete.