In the last years of his life, the noted historian John Hope Franklin liked to spend part of each winter in St. Petersburg. A friend had recommended it as a "Garden of Eden," the prolific scholar once noted, and he looked forward to visiting every year.
Eighteen months after Franklin's death, his son visited the city last week to help plan a museum of African-American history in Washington.
John W. Franklin is director of partnerships and international programs at the Smithsonian Institution. He is touring communities throughout the state in an effort to create partnerships with the National Museum of African American History & Culture, which the Smithsonian will begin building on the Mall in Washington in 2012.
Franklin was part of a small group that toured St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhood and other Central Florida towns last week.
The tour was organized by Althemese Barnes, executive director of the Riley House Museum of African American History and Culture in Tallahassee.
"Florida is one state that they (Smithsonian) selected as a model because of the very active network of African-American museums," said Barnes, a leader in the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network.
So what was it about the Sunshine City that got the attention of officials from Tallahassee and the Smithsonian?
Franklin, Barnes and company were interested in "the historical areas and what we had done to restore not only the sites, but also what is being done with economic entrepreneurships," said Goliath Davis, the city's senior administrator of community enrichment. He led the tour.
The tour included visits to historical venues in the 22nd Street S corridor, including the Manhattan Casino, the former train depot, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, the Jordan School, Royal Theater and the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center.
Franklin was particularly interested in the Legacy Garden at the Woodson since he's planning a similar garden at the new museum in Washington.
"The idea is that as people visit the new museum in Washington, they (Smithsonian) will make the connection in trying to link what is there so that visitors then want to see the historical sites in their own communities," said Barnes.
Later this year Franklin will visit South Florida. He plans to visit the Panhandle next year.
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He quietly made his return earlier this month.
But since then, the buzz about town has been building. The Buster Cooper Trio is back at the Garden Restaurant at 217 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg.
Signs posted throughout the restaurant boldly announce "The St. Pete Jazz Legend Returns."
"It was like going back home because I was there for 15 years," said Cooper, 81, a St. Petersburg native who returned home after a career playing with jazz giants like Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington.
Tommy Varlas, the owner since December 2009, made several changes to the restaurant after Emmanuel Roux sold the popular spot last fall. Since then, Cooper and his trio had been performing at the nearby Jo Jo's in Citta.
Once word spread of Cooper's return to the Garden, calls started coming in.
"People were calling days before his first set, after the word started to spread," said Jan Esposito, an employee at the Garden. Cooper has been bringing in a lot of old regulars who frequented the restaurant, she said. "We've had a pretty good turnout since his return," she said.
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The PinkCricket Center for Arts Education will close its doors at the end of the month.
The center, which moved from its original location at 534 Central Ave. to larger quarters in the Kress Building at 475 Central Ave. to accommodate its growing programs, has been struggling financially after temporarily closing at the end of August.
The PinkCricket will host a Closing/Good-Bye Party from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Kress Building. It is a farewell of sorts for students, families, volunteers, friends and teachers. The free event will include hands-on arts activities, face painting and more.
Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor for community news. She can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8874.