Tour highlights St. Pete's African-American heritage

- Gwendolyn Reese hits the streets of St. Petersburg to bring part of the city's history to life.

"That's the Royal Theater. One of two theaters that served black people during the segregated period that was so much a part of our history," Reese pointed out as she gave a tour of the African-American Heritage Trail, which covers about a dozen city blocks.

"Significant buildings, significant people, events that are part of the history of African-American presence in St. Pete for a 100-year period," Reese continued.

Reese points out that a former slave participated in the establishing of St. Petersburg.  There's also the area along the 22nd Street South corridor that became known as "The Deuces."

"The Deuces, as we fondly call it, was the business district for the black community," said Reese. "Central Avenue was and still is the primary business district for the city of St. Petersburg. But black businesses could not be along that street, nor could Jewish businesses, so our businesses were concentrated along the Deuces."

She highlights the building that was instrumental in the music scene during the period of segregation.

"It was originally called the Jordan Dance Hall. In that casino, every African-American artist, musician, jazz, gospel, blues, from Duke Ellington to Cab Calloway to James Brown; Ike and Tina Turner -- we can go on and on naming the African-American artists who performed there," offered Reese.

There were also the workers who were part of making St. Petersburg the tourist destination that it is today.

"St. Petersburg was sand spurs and rattlesnakes. We have pictures of African-Americans cleaning the sand spurs to build the roads. African-Americans came here in numbers to build the railroad. St. Petersburg would not have become the tourist center if it wasn't for the railroads coming in from the north to bring people in to this area," Reese added.

LINK: For more information on the African-American Heritage Trail: http://www.stpete.org/parks_and_recreation/african_american_heritage_trail.php

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