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Why St. Petersburg’s Black voters beat national averages

Turnout is 10 percent over the national average. That’s been true for generations. The story of Chester James Sr. helps explain why.

Lynette Hardy found a dusty, metal contraption in the attic of her grandfather’s house. The metal frame has a series of levers near yellowing names. She knew exactly what it was — a sample voting machine from the middle of the 20th century.

Her grandfather, Chester James Sr., is best known as the unofficial mayor of Methodist Town, later renamed Jamestown. He also was instrumental in registering people to vote during the civil rights era.

In 1963, he earned a service award from the NAACP and in 1964 recognition from President Lyndon Johnson for registering 1,000 Black voters. At the time, the census reported 24,000 Black residents.

This is his story.

Hidden Histories, a new monthly video series by the Tampa Bay Times, highlights untold, overlooked and underreported local history. It will cover the surprising, weird, inspiring and outrageous stories that inform our society today.

Have a story to share? Email jglenfield@tampabay.com.

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