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Did St. Petersburg City Hall raise Black History flag for the last time?

A Florida House bill would ban local governments from displaying flags related to race or sexual orientation or what it describes as political viewpoints.
 
Mayor Ken Welch, with members of the city council, raise the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Flag at City Hall to commemorate the first day of Black History Month, February 1, 2024 in St. Petersburg.
Mayor Ken Welch, with members of the city council, raise the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Flag at City Hall to commemorate the first day of Black History Month, February 1, 2024 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Feb. 1|Updated Feb. 1

ST. PETERSBURG — Since 2016, St. Petersburg officials have gathered outside City Hall at the start of February to raise a flag in honor of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month.

That tradition could end after this year. A bill moving through the Florida Legislature would ban the display of flags on government property that represent what it describes as a political view, including “a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.”

Local officials gathered Thursday morning to raise such a flag, with some condemning the possibility it could be the last time.

“Today, we are faced with the potential of criminalization of gatherings like this for raising a flag in honor of the father of Black history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and Black History Month, for which we will not be deterred,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, the executive director of St. Petersburg’s Woodson African American Museum, which together with the city organizes the annual event.

“We can’t help but wonder why the collective stories of African American contributions to this nation’s greatness are so troubling to our oppressors,” she said, referring to recent actions by the state to ban books and restrict how Black history is taught in schools. “Why must attempts by African Americans to tell their stories, celebrate their successes and elevate their excellence be perceived as threatening? But rest assured, the Woodson will never be deterred by acts of autocrats.”

Related: February is Black History Month. Here are 22 Tampa Bay events celebrating it.
Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum, pictured before making remarks during the annual ceremonial raising of a flag in honor of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often described as the father of Black History Month.
Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson African American Museum, pictured before making remarks during the annual ceremonial raising of a flag in honor of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often described as the father of Black History Month. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, and Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, reads: “The governmental entity must remain neutral when representing political viewpoints in displaying or erecting a flag.” Supporters say the bill prevents “indoctrination” in places such as schools. It does not prevent flying flags at private residences.

If signed into law, the bill would also prohibit St. Petersburg from flying a rainbow flag for Pride month every June.

Mayor Ken Welch urged legislators to “address real problems,” such as preparing the state for sea level rise, skyrocketing property insurance rates and the rise in other housing costs.

“No matter what happens in Tallahassee, we are St. Pete. You can change how we celebrate, but you can’t change our core beliefs,” Welch said. “We’ve been doing this so long in the city, it’s not an issue. It reflects what our city is about.”

The mayor said the city has taken strides to acknowledge the disparities that exist between Black and white residents, as documented by a city-commissioned structural racism study accepted by the City Council in 2021, and to give Black history a home in the planned Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment.

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The Tampa Bay Rays and their developer partner Hines have plans for a new home for the Woodson. It would be the first building built for an African American history museum in Florida. A rendering of the building was on display at Thursday’s ceremony.

A new Woodson would serve as the “entryway” to the development off Booker Creek. Lipsey Scott said the plan now calls for a 40,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor facility, an increase from the proposed 30,000-square-foot footprint, with a rooftop gathering space and a dedicated gallery to integrate existing Negro League Baseball museum exhibits. It also calls for the development team to provide a $10 million donation.

Related: How St. Pete’s Woodson Museum became central to Tropicana Field’s redevelopment

The Woodson has a new goal of raising $47 million to build and operate the museum, up from its $27 million goal to build a new facility on a lot on 22nd Street South. The Woodson had raised $7.7 million as of last January. Lipsey Scott on Thursday said fundraising efforts have been paused until City Council approves the redevelopment. Final, legally binding documents are expected to go before the council in April.

During Thursday’s City Council meeting, council member Richie Floyd postponed a planned call for peace in Israel and Palestine. The scheduled item draw a crowd of about 75 people to the morning meeting.

Floyd said he didn’t want to detract from possibly the last Black History Month flag raising.