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Warning: The descriptions in this story and a photograph of a public lynching are graphic and disturbing. Six years ago, a crew replacing light poles on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street found an engraved metal plate. It was a few feet off the ground, blackened with graffiti and hidden behind a planter bursting with bird of paradise, almost invisible.

No one knew who had placed it or when. On Tuesday morning, the community unveiled a lynching memorial at Dr. Street, marking the spot in front of a meat market where a mob hanged and shot Evans. They later sold postcards of the gruesome scene. Dozens of local organizations worked for several years to recognize local lynchings. Like hundreds of communities across the country, St.

Petersburg had more or less erased this ugly history. Some history books gave it a single paragraph. Ultimately, it creates a symbolic reminder of the work that communities need to do going forward. The record of what happened on that night years ago is incredibly detailed. Instead, the authors provided justifications. Mary Sherman, wearing a raincoat over torn clothes, struggled in the dark on a cool night. Sherman and her husband, Edward, lived in a one-story bungalow surrounded by acres of shrublands on 30th Avenue North, next to the Atlantic Coast Line railroad tracks.

She fainted several times, she would later say, before reaching her nearest neighbor, a half a mile away, around 3 a. The city of St. Petersburg was then just 26 years old, with one of the longest public waterfronts anywhere and a curio shop on Central Avenue with a live alligator called Old Bill.

At the time, it took a day by train to get to Tampa. Earlier that year, the St. Louis Browns arrived for the first time to play winter baseball before 4, fans at Sunshine Park on Coffee Pot Bayou, followed a year later by the Philadelphia Phillies. Petersburg, then a town of about 7, Mary Sherman ended up in Augusta Memorial Hospital, where she told a patrolman that she and her husband had been attacked the night by two Black men. He told me he would kill me if I moved. She said she removed her skirt and threw it at him. The men grabbed the money, dragged her outside and hit her in the head with a metal pipe.

Two years before, the Shermans had sold photography studios in Camden, N. They billed it as a suburb of St. Mary Sherman said one was tall and wore a black felt hat. The other was short with a mustache, a description that supposedly matched Evans. Evans, 35, stayed in a rooming house on 10th Street. Ed Sherman had picked him up a few weeks before in Dunnellon. A few days before the killing, Sherman had dismissed him and another man who was missing fingers on his right hand. Police concluded the next day that those two killed Sherman and ordered their arrests.

Mayor J. Brhaw mounted the steps at City Hall and called for order. But armed white men spread across the remote peninsula, travelling by buggy, horseback and auto, searching for Black men. Posses from Largo and Clearwater ed the search, developer George Gandy, who built the Gandy Bridge in among them, Dunlap wrote in his Rambler column.

The men shot at Black men, questioned them and searched their homes, abducting them and dragging some to jail. A crowd had gathered at the hospital, and it jostled him as he left, questioning him. But he went to work at a property on the west side of St. Later that day, a group of white men turned up a bloody shirt in the back of the 10th Street rooming house. The crowd took him into the woods and put a rope around his neck, lifting him off his feet, according to one . The police chief arrived and took Evans back to the hospital. Evans was taken to the town jail.

An article in the St. It did not say why. That night, a mob of several hundred broke down the back door of the jail with a crowbar. They pointed guns at the jailer and yanked Evans out onto the alley. A noose was placed around his neck, and the men fired their guns into the air, two volleys of several hundred shots.

Then they headed down Central Avenue. As they walked, men, women, even young children, some half-dressed, ed the procession. The street and sidewalks filled, followed by a line of cars, motorcycles, even a lit street car. At Ninth Street, now Dr.

They talked of burning Evans. They sent a young boy with a rope climbing up a pole with an electric light. But the arm holding the light was not strong enough. They crossed the street to a tree, but the crowd complained it was too dark. They moved to a taller telephone pole at Second Avenue South, and a man climbed it with the rope and reached it over one of the cross arms, dropping it to the ground.

Evans clung to the pole as they pulled him up 40 feet. By this time, the crowd was estimated at 1, A woman sitting in a car fired first, setting off a volley of more than shots from the crowd, who pointed rifles, pistols and double-barreled shotguns. Petersburg Daily Times reported.

The crowd retreated quietly. A policeman cut down his body the next morning. A city magistrate held an inquest. She soon left St. Ebenezer Tobin, 44, who was married and a preacher, would be executed a year later, hanged in front of people following a trial. At his trial, Tobin said he was innocent and home with his wife that night. Mary Sherman testified she was sure Tobin had shot her husband, not Evans. Jon Wilson was a young reporter for the St. Petersburg called Race in America. Arsenault suggested Wilson look into local lynchings.

Petersburg , Wilson attempted to unravel how a town billed as paradise had unleashed such violence. Wilson, who retired from the St. Petersburg Times after 37 years in , pointed out that just months before the lynching, the city had mailed out brochures to 50, people up north, hoping to boost its coming tourist season.

Like most Southern towns, St. Petersburg was strictly segregated by race. Black men had built the railway, the original pier and many of the houses in St. Petersburg, even the Detroit Hotel. But Black residents were confined to three neighborhoods. Petersburg was trying really hard at the time to not be a typical Southern town, said Arsenault, the professor who recently retired and wrote the book St.

Petersburg and the Florida Dream, He refused to identify which ones. Atkins, in recounting the events, used a racial epithet to describe Evans, and he said he had carried a postcard of the lynching taken by a friend. Walsh, had travelled to St. Walsh told a reporter that Evans had been tried by a group of residents and found guilty. He was found guilty after every bit of evidence was thoroughly investigated. Wilson said there were s Evans was innocent. He also refused to confess, despite being tortured. Arsenault said city leaders remain unidentified to this day.

Petersburg newspapers never reported on a secret committee of 15 wealthy residents who voted to convict Evans. The bulk of the St. Petersburg negroes are honest, straight-walking people who are industrious and well-behaved. The St. Petersburg Daily Times carried an Ocala Evening Star editorial on the bottom of its front , which noted Evans had spent time in prison for grand larceny in Marion County.

Petersburg newspapers and others, in the region and across the country, perpetuated racism through much of the 20th century, Reese said. They described the Gas Plant neighborhood where she grew up as a ghetto and a slum, though it was a thriving community with 30 businesses, 18 churches and people of all economic walks living close together because of segregation. One Sunday afternoon in , Jacqueline Williams Hubbard, a former public defender and city attorney, and others at St. Hubbard, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, felt overwhelmed as she walked through the steel sculptures hanging from poles, each vertical box representing a county with known lynchings and engraved with the names of those who lost their lives in this barbaric way.

For Pinellas County, she found two names: Evans and another man. In , masked men kidnapped Parker Watson from police, leaving him dead on the side of the road. A third man, John Thomas, also will be named on the memorial. A mob shot him to death in after he was accused of killing the police chief. The Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit in Alabama that provides legal help to the wrongfully convicted, has documented almost 6, lynchings in the United States between and Florida had the second-highest rate after Mississippi. Hubbard learned the Equal Justice Initiative had already fielded inquiries from other local organizations, including the African American Heritage Association.

So she arranged for them all to meet at her church. Hubbard and Reese became co-chairs of the Pinellas Remembers effort. The city provided the land for the memorial. Petersburg socialite and a real estate broker, had written a fictional play called A Straw in the Wind , which describes the lynching.

She hoped to produce it and had it copyrighted in But a month later, when McNeil and her twin sister were 13, their father, a former bank executive in St. Petersburg, shot their mother and himself in their Snell Isle home. McNeil, now 53, was eventually sent away to boarding school and now lives in Pennsylvania. She wanted to explore the story that so entranced her mother. He says Evans is innocent.

She and Wilson have teamed up to write a historical book about the lynching. McNeil said she wants to finish what her mother started. She does not believe Evans or Tobin killed Sherman. As a little boy, the Rev. Pierre Loomis Williams recalls his father telling him about a man being hanged by a rope. The steamer Favorite departed the day after the lynching with Black people aboard. Others hid in palmetto thickets, toting possessions in bundles, local newspapers reported.

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