The Deuces St. Petersburg Times Interactive Special Report
Map & timeline
22nd Streetscape
Geech's Bar-B-Q
The Manhattan
The music
Mr. & Mrs. Wiggins
Yate's Barber shop
Linset Family Tree
Moving away
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[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
RELATIVES of Joseph and Delores Wiggins leave the family home at 2166 Emerson Ave. S in May 2001 after celebrating Joseph’s 75th birthday. From left are Joseph Land, Jamesha Harris, on Land’s back, 4 at the time, LaMonica Land, Oralee Holmes (in white on the steps), Mirdis Wilson (in pink), Kylie Wiggins, 5 at the time, and J.T. Land. For 53 years Delores Wiggins hosted an annual birthday party for her husband, Joseph. Even last year, as emphysema weakened Joseph’s body, Delores prepared the celebration, shaving him, baking 12 pies and 14 cakes and cooking enough for nearly 30 family members. “Nothing going to separate us but God, that’s what I told myself when we got married,” says Delores. She stayed by her husband’s side until he died in November. They lived their entire married lives in two homes along 22nd Street, first in Harris Court and then this clapboard home on Emerson, about 30 yards from 22nd Street. It was demolished this summer. “He told me he loved me and I told him I loved him, too,” she says about their relationship.

The Wigginses had lived on 22nd Street S all their lives. To learn more about them and their family, see “Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins.” This Flash gallery requires the free Flash Player 5+.

The neighborhood's backbone was built of more than business. A child of the community, Rosalie Peck had role models and books to buoy her in the 1930s. But she liked to sleep late, even on school mornings. Jordan Elementary principal Marie Pierce rang a brass hand bell to start the day. Its clatter often brought young Rosalie sprinting down a dirt road between her house and the brick school a couple of blocks away.

Mrs. Pierce kept ringing until all her students skipped inside. Teachers cared. They drilled the basics year after year, and they hammered home the names of black people to emulate.

"Do you know Dr. Alsup? Well, that's what you can do if you study."

Fred W. Alsup, a physician and civil rights leader, came to St. Petersburg in 1950. He opened a practice at 623 22nd St. S, three blocks from home. A close neighbor was construction worker Joe Lindsey and his wife, Ruby, a maid at a downtown hotel. Alsup delivered eight of the Lindseys' nine children.

Many houses were modest, even ramshackle. Others were sturdy and substantial. Regardless of social status, community members lived near one another. Adults looked out for everyone's children. (See "A Sense of Community")

"I could walk down the street and have the possibility of being beaten by 10 people" for misbehavior, said Lou Brown, the real estate agent, whose parents were educators.

Other professionals along or near 22nd showcased success.

"They were role models for me," said Ernest Fillyau, 75, who lived west of 22nd on Eighth Avenue S. As an adult, he lived in Jordan Park, the public housing project virtually next door to the heart of The Deuces.

"I wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to own a business. Those things motivated me to go to school even though I was poor," Fillyau said.

The Deuces:
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As a youth, Fillyau milked a cow owned by a teacher named Mrs. Bennett. His pay was a share of the milk. He picked up empty bottles, turning them in for change. He and his father raised chickens, and for the dog track's racing greyhounds, rabbits. Hunters paid Fillyau to pluck the quail they'd shot.

Buddy West, 86, opened his first barbershop in the 600 block in 1934. It became a hobnobbing spot. So was Joe Yates' shop down the street a few years later. As on African-American streets everywhere, The Deuces became a place to pass the time with friends.

Rosalie Peck and her mother enjoyed afternoon walks, when Geech's barbecue stand began spreading its aroma like hot perfume. The Pecks would head north to the post office substation under the Manhattan Casino, hoping a letter might wait in Box 306.

On the way, they'd buy apples at Sidney Harden's grocery store on 22nd and Ninth Avenue S. Friends would greet them on the street.

"There was always a lot of talk, Southern-hospitality style, hello to people. You'd stop and have a chat. 'My, your little girl is getting tall,' " Peck said.

Harden's enjoyed a reputation for selling tasty fruit: the best apples in town, pears, red and white grapes. It was also a cultural market. There were chitlins, and in time for weekend dinners, whole hogs' heads glared through the glass of the meat counter, which also contained opossums, raccoons and rabbits.

"Sunday they'd be all gone," said Minson Rubin.

Youngsters who wanted to feel grown up went to Harden's to buy chocolate chip cookies, two for a penny. "Then you'd walk back home thinking you were somebody," said Rubin, who grew up in Jordan Park.

A block south, S&S Market hired youngsters on bicycles to deliver door to door. Clarence Jackson was one of the best.

Jackson's friends called him Pop because he was the oldest boy in his family. He was a slender youngster, quick on the bike.

"It was a pretty good job. I made about $10 a week," said Jackson, 56. Meyer Miller, a Jewish man, owned the store at 963 22nd St. S.

Bars and poolrooms caused many parents to declare parts of The Deuces off-limits.

"Twenty-second was the place. They had at least 12 little clubs, all black-owned. It was mostly a forbidden area for kids. You couldn't be up there after dark," said Alvin Burns, 63, who lived in Jordan Park and as a 9-year-old helped carry seats into the Royal Theater when it opened in 1948.

About the same time, Burns picked up an old trumpet at Ira Harding Wilson's home. Later, Scout leader Charles "King" Tutson taught Burns the bugle. Burns studied trumpet under community music professors Reynold Davis and Sam Robinson. While playing at the Manhattan Casino with the Manzy Harris Orchestra, Burns met trumpet great Dizzy Gillespie.

"He told me to practice and stay focused," Burns said.

Jessie Henderson's soda fountain opened across from Harden's about 1950, and the sundries store was a world away from the nightclub scene. It became a hangout for young people.

"It was basically Jughead and Veronica," said Moses Holmes, 66, referring to characters in the teen comic strip Archie.

Henderson served shakes, malts and sodas across a counter running the length of the south wall of the store. A nickel in the Rockola jukebox -- sometimes the kids called it a "piccolo" -- brought forth the mellow sounds of groups like the Orioles, harmonizing Is It Too Soon to Know?

Older generations recall with vivid wisps of memory a tight community: snow cones at Jordan Park Sundries and ice cream at the Sno-Peak ... a barber named Oscar Kleckley who would cut kids' hair for free ... Lincoln Bootery, where customers could run tabs ... Johnny Swain, the butcher at S&S who would wrap free meat when someone was hard up ...

Major League Baseball players and big-time entertainers bunking in the community because segregation kept them out of downtown ... Ike and Tina Turner staying above Buddy West's barbershop ... gospel and pop vocalist Sam Cooke at Jordan Park Apt. 274, gospel promoter Goldie Thompson's home ... Cooke becoming godfather to Thompson's daughter, Ann ... Thompson's daily radio spiritual hours, The Old Ship of Zion and Peace in the Valley on WTMP ...

Characters like TV Mama, a homeless woman who pushed her belongings in a cart ... Arthur Johnson, said to be so peculiar and powerful he could (and sometimes tried to) throw a brick around a corner ...

The "secret" passageway alongside the Royal Theater, leading from Jordan Park to 22nd ... James Henry Bonner, who paid by the pound for old clothes and went through the neighborhood calling, "Rag man! Raaaag man!" ... George Jones's state-of-the art service station at 13th Avenue ...

Clarence Jackson lived in Jordan Park, which he recalled as a neighborhood where everyone looked out for each other. "You didn't lock your doors at night," he said. "You just went inside and slept."

Twenty-second Street and its neighborhoods represented necessary havens, said retired Times columnist Peggy Peterman.

"That's the only way we could exist with any spirit, because we were not looked on as human."

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