Bernice Green smiles as she recalls sneaking out of the house to listen to music at the Manhattan Casino. Looking up at the ceiling of her bakery and sandwich shop at 3065 18th St. S, she tries to remember the people and places of her past.
Green, along with other longtime residents of the 22nd Street S community, shared memories for an oral history project.
The 22nd Street Redevelopment Corp. and its Main Street Program affiliate initiated the project in February.
"It's a project to honor those people who have been here before," Main Street manager Steve Graves, 59, said. "I guess it honors them, but it also honors the street to say: This was the heart of African-American culture from the 1920s through the '60s."
The project was inspired by a 2002 St. Petersburg Times special report, "The Deuces," in which reporter Jon Wilson explored the history and people of 22nd Street, Graves said.
Participants are encouraged to think of stories they find themselves repeating to others and share those memories and others with Graves in a 30-minute interview.
Interviews are done at the 22nd Street Redevelopment office at 833 22nd St. S or at the home or workplace of the participant.
Graves said he hopes to conduct as many interviews as he can for the project. Once complete, the interviews will be posted on discover22ndst.com. Copies will be given to the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum on Ninth Avenue S for possible use there, Graves said.
In her interview Green, 65, recalled a thriving street where businesses flourished.
"Back in those days, business was booming. It wasn't always different codes and this and that. I'm still trying to hold on. Right now it's totally different."
Green recalled sneaking out to the Sno-Peak restaurant to sit on cars and listen to the big bands at the Manhattan Casino. She remembered a street where everyone was close.
"Up on 22nd it was like a family place. You knew everybody. I could go up there at 3 or 4 in the morning. I wasn't afraid because nobody was going to mess with Miss Green."
Samuel Jones, 81, shared memories of growing up in the Jordan Park neighborhood on Ninth Avenue S. He laughed when he recalled visiting a nearby soda fountain on 22nd Street after school.
"All the kids would go there every day from school. It was about the only place in this area they could go and just enjoy themselves," he said.
Jones discussed his career as one of the city's first African-American police officers. He also talked about his two years of service as a military police officer in Germany.
Owners of the former Sno-Peak restaurant, Leandrew Bowers, 85, and son Greg Bowers, 48, also participated in the project. They spoke of a time when musicians at the Manhattan Casino would cross 22nd Street to eat at the restaurant after their performances. The pair let the musicians sleep in the parking lot because they were not allowed to stay at white-owned hotels, Greg Bowers said.
Greg Bowers also talked about the restaurant's closing in 2004 and its demolition in 2006.
"Right now we can't walk into a store in St. Petersburg without somebody remembering us from the restaurant, and they ask us when we're going to open up again."
Graves says the Oral History Promotion Project is important for the people of 22nd Street.
"I think they're reminded that there is history. They're reminded that they need to be collecting and preserving it."
Sybil Crocetti is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.