ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — People who once called the Gas Plant neighborhood or Laurel Park neighborhood home are meeting this Sunday for a reunion.
Both neighborhoods were once the only places Black people were allowed to live during the Jim Crow era. More than three decades ago both neighborhoods were demolished. Hundreds of Black families were displaced to make way for Tropicana Field.
What You Need To Know
- Hundreds of Black families were displaced to make way for Tropicana Field.
- There is a reunion for displaced residents this Sunday at Lot 4 of Tropicana Field.
- Click here to learn more about this free event.
“So what they did is they went for referendum and they initially proposed, in case you don’t know, was a light industrial complex that would provide employment and build better housing people for the people living in the Gas Plant area,” said Gwendolyn Reece, the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg president. “I don’t think it took more than two years before they said, "No, we’re building a baseball field." But they didn’t go to referendum to change it and decide to build a baseball field, a baseball field that did nothing for the people who had been displaced from there.”
Long before reunion organizer Gwendolyn Reece, became president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, she was a little girl living in the gas plant neighborhood.
“You knew your neighbors, they knew you, we looked out for each other. It was one of the safest environments you could ever want to live. Everybody was your mama or your daddy and they could stop you if you were doing wrong and say you know better,” she said.
Those beautiful memories didn’t come without ugly ones.
“We’re talking about Jim Crow segregation,” said Reese. “We’re talking about when you couldn’t sit on the green benches in downtown St. Pete. We’re talking about when you could buy clothes but you couldn’t try them on. You could buy shoes but you couldn’t try them on.”
Reece says they were never given jobs or housing they were promised after Tropicana Field was built. They were only left with memories of their once thriving community. Memories they plan to reminisce over at the Gas Plant Laurel Park neighborhood reunion this Sunday at Lot 4 of Tropicana field.
“I want people to walk away knowing the story and hearing the stories of people who lived there so we can feel uplifted about the Gas Plant area and not embarrassed by the way it’s often described,” she said.
A mural was also created on the side of Campbell Park Rec Center to honor both communities. Local artists painted the mural with help from children who attend the rec center’s after school program.