Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Freddie Miller

Neighborhood leader Freddie Miller fought crime, blight with vegetable garden

ST. PETERSBURG — Freddie Miller moved slowly, as if acting on quiet purposes he preferred not to disclose.

So slowly, a few buddies in a service club gave Mr. Miller a nickname: "Lazy Man."

That easy style belied the fact that Mr. Miller staggered his time between driving a truck, manning a photo lab and tending bar. Members of the Palmetto Park Neighborhood Association came to rely on the quiet strength of their longtime vice president to face their many challenges.

As other neighborhoods lobbied the City Council to preserve their hexagonal block sidewalks or planned candlelight Christmas tours, Palmetto Park was fighting crack dealers and outsiders dumping trash in vacant lots.

Mr. Miller helped lead a counter insurgency that has lasted more than a decade, a pushback in which every shoulder counted. Alongside his neighbor and friend, perennial president Lurlis Simmons, he shouted down the drug seller and found inventive ways to help both the neighborhood's children and its elderly.

"He was not the person you see up front, but the foundation that the person up front stood upon," said Uwezo "Zo" Sudan of Tampa, Mr. Miller's son. "Men like that are the tensile strength of our community."

Young people found in him a source of nonjudgmental advice.

"He used to drive 18-wheelers," said Elliott Kiadii, 24, his grandson. "He could tell you how to get to Tallahassee or New York and the back roads to go with it, too."

They looked to him for help navigating bigger challenges, too.

"He had this capacity to listen to people. When he listened to them, he listened so completely, it was almost as if those moments were sacred," his son said.

Mr. Miller's own story began in 1933 in Leary, Ga., where he was born into a sharecropper's family. As a child he survived polio that left one leg 5 inches shorter than the other.

He attended Albany State University, moved to St. Petersburg in the mid 1950s and married Rosa Lee Jones. He drove a truck and ran the photo lab at Eckerd Drugs. Between catnaps, he worked at Sun Liquors on 18th Avenue S and tended bar at The Blue Flame in Clearwater.

Mr. Miller also lent his steady hand through changes in Palmetto Park, a neighborhood bounded by 22nd and 34th streets, from Central Avenue to Eighth Avenue S. Residents resented the incursion of the drug trade in the 1990s.

They stepped up Crime Watch activity. Tensions increased.

Dealers hit the homes of two Crime Watch captains with Molotov cocktails.

Mr. Miller and Simmons, the neighborhood president, pointed out drug houses to the police. They stood outside with neighbors, chanting slogans. Eventually, they drove the dealers out.

"We always fight what comes in here," said Simmons, 81. "You got to come through the front door to do anything in here. You're not coming through the back door."

In 2001, the neighborhood started a grant-funded vegetable garden on city property. Residents still tend okra, greens and tomatoes and more, distributing the harvest to more than 200 of the neighborhood's elderly residents. A few years later, Mr. Miller talked someone into donating a half-dozen computers so that young people could start learning.

"Mr. Freddie was one of the most respected persons you would ever want to meet," Simmons said.

In recent months he had battled multiple health problems, including congestive heart failure. Mr. Miller died Jan. 6 at Bayfront Medical Center. He was 79.

Sudan, an African folklorist who changed his name from Freddie Miller Jr., has since heard from dozens of people, each telling him about "unique" relationships they enjoyed with his father.

Sudan briefly wondered how that was possible. Then he decided it sounded just like his father to listen to so many, to extend that sacred space that far.

"What I have discovered is, that's what wise people do."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Freddie Lee Miller

Born: July 26, 1933

Died: Jan. 6, 2013

Survivors: sons; Uwezo "Zo" Sudan and Wilbert Miller; daughters, Shelly Jones and Georgia Moore; sister, Maude Lovett; and seven grandchildren.

Neighborhood leader Freddie Miller fought crime, blight with vegetable garden 01/12/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 10:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Police: 8 found dead in truck, 20 dire in immigrant smuggling case

    Nation

    SAN ANTONIO — Authorities called to a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio overnight found eight people dead and 20 others in dire condition in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer, in what police are calling a horrific case of immigrant smuggling.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene Sunday, July 23, 2017, where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  2. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

    Blogs

     Winner of the week

    Peter Antonacci. Gov. Rick Scott tapped his go-to utility player to lead his Florida job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, having previously picked him for his general counsel, to lead the South Florida Water Management District and to serve as Palm Beach state …

  3. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table

    Travel

    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers

    Nap

    Walk 6.2 kilometers

    Nap

    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  4. Storm routs Cleveland

    Storm

    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  5. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.