The St. Petersburg Museum of History may have the 100-year-old flight logs of Albert Whitted, but they don’t have photos of queer families, or diaries written by Black teens. In fact, marginalized communities in St. Petersburg are virtually unrecorded in the museum’s archives.
A couple of history buffs – museum executive director Rui Farias and collections manager Jessy Breckenridge – are trying to change that with a call for historical items from the Black and LGBTQ communities.
“Not everyone has a park named after them,” said Farias. “What we don’t have enough of is documents that tell us what was going on in people’s heads.”
The hard realization that the 99-year-old museum lacked certain representation came with the struggle to find relevant voices for the space’s latest exhibit: Building the Sunshine City.
The exhibit, mainly composed of vintage photographs, offers a glimpse into the world of the Black laborers who cleared the path for infrastructure in South Pinellas County.
Visitors see their faces, but what were these newly Floridian workers thinking?
“It was a lot of hard work to just compile these images, but it would have been really great to have first-person letters, or diary entries,” Farias said. “Why did these people stay in a place with mosquitoes as big as their heads? That’s how we tell history.”
The museum is working to make the next century of archived history a little more colorful, says Breckenridge.
That doesn’t exclude more recent artifacts – for example, writings from someone who lived through the AIDS pandemic, or photos from an LGBTQ couple’s wedding.
“Everything is history in the making,” Breckenridge said. “Things you don’t think are history, someone will want to see that in 100 years.”
Voices of Nostalgia
Breckenridge, who spends her days painstakingly sorting through files and objects from decades ago, is also accepting oral histories.
The approaching end of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration pushed the museum staff to spend six hours discussing the last eight years of city politics with Kriseman and Dr. Kamika Tomalin, St. Petersburg’s Deputy Mayor.
They recorded all of it for the archives.
Recording oral histories is a fairly new method of preserving the past for the museum and they are interested in the memories of Pinellas from regular people.
“We were thinking someone would want to know about our current administration down the line, and it was interesting listening to them talk about their thought process for changes throughout the few years, the new pier, things like that,” Farias said. “We want to expand this to someone who isn’t a mayor, or employed by the city.”
Museum staff will do the recording for those interested in telling their stories.
Eventually, the museum would like to put together an exhibit featuring the collected items and recordings, but they can’t do it without submissions.
Do you have something to share? Call Breckenridge at 727-894-1052 or email at Jessica@SPMOH.org.