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]
THIS BUILDING in the 2100 block of Ninth Avenue S is home to Night Flow Restaurant and Juglers Produce. About a year ago, a quote paraphrasing Marcus Garvey was painted on the side: “If you have no confidence in self you are truly defeated in the race of life. With confidence you have won even before you have started.”

Memories of The Deuces faded after integration. But lately, a culture of remembrance has begun to envelop 22nd Street, strongest among generations that came of age in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

"I think when people were living there, they didn't realize what it represented until it was gone. There's an old song that says you never miss your water until your well runs dry," said Moses Holmes, the retired education lobbyist.

Nostalgia sometimes veils reality. No one longs for the lacerating Jim Crow system that shaped the community. But The Deuces recalls values that transcended segregation's inequity. (See "Lines")

"Tenacity. Roots. Loyalty. I'll hear someone say, 'I grew up a block from 22nd Street,' and they'll say it with pride," said Rosalie Peck.

Peck, the little girl who slipped into Jordan Elementary under Mrs. Pierce's brass hand bell, grew up to be an author. She sees gritty vacant lots and wonders if a new era could fill them with businesses like a supermarket, a shoe repair shop and a dollar store, a name-brand service station, maybe even a McDonald's.

Perhaps some magic can re-energize the Manhattan's hulk, transforming it into a banquet hall, offices, a cultural center or a museum.

The Deuces:
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St. Petersburg's downtown Central Avenue, blessed with banks, offices and a waterfront, required a generation's worth of perseverance before it came back from a mid 20th century slump. The Deuces faces a comeback with far fewer advantages.

It does have pioneers who left influential memories and, like Peck, children who continue to make their marks.

Elder Jordan Sr., who built the Manhattan, died in 1936. The school named after him is empty but is targeted for new use. (See "Schools") A new development called Hope VI is replacing Jordan's namesake housing project, Jordan Park.

Jordan's grandson William Jordan went on to serve as program director of the New York chapter's National Council of Christians and Jews. Another grandson, Basha P. Jordan Jr., is a pastor in Baltimore.

David Rothblatt, the early Jewish grocer on 22nd Street, helped found St. Petersburg's first synagogue.

Moses Holmes, who fed nickels to the Rockola at Henderson's soda fountain, is running for the Pinellas County School Board.

"I think one of the lessons of 22nd is, it teaches people that even though we're desegregated, you don't have to forget about what you had in your own neighborhood," Holmes said. He'd like to see African-Americans spend more money in their own communities.

Ernest Fillyau, the poor boy who milked cows and raised rabbits, earned two degrees from Florida A&M and became a St. Petersburg City Council member.

"If you're going to redevelop 22nd Street, develop it along the lines of family and mom-and-pop places," Fillyau said. (See "Rocky Revival") "Let's get away from this plantation economy," he said, defining a situation in which a company comes in with a few jobs but takes most of the money out of the community.

Johnnie Swain, the generous butcher at S&S Market, worked there for 30 years and died in July 2000 at age 83. People recall his generosity as they did that of the store's owner, Meyer Miller, who died at age 87 in 1995. Clarence Jackson, who delivered the groceries, still rides a bicycle every day to his job at the St. Petersburg Times.

Minson Rubin retired after a 30-year teaching career in Pinellas County. He devotes much of his time to preserving the heritage of Gibbs High School, 22nd Street and black neighborhoods.

Plaques like those marking downtown's baseball history should be installed to commemorate historic spots in those neighborhoods, Rubin said.

Buddy West, 22nd Street's oldest surviving businessman, goes most days to his barbershop where he still gives a few haircuts, $10 a head.

Every morning, Paul Barco sweeps the sidewalk in front of his home on the 900 block. Ira Harding Wilson moved to the John Knox apartments on March 1.

"Twenty-second Street is deadsville now," Wilson said. (See "Incomplete Integration") He's glad to spend a morning telling visitors how it used to be.

George Grogan, the legendary promoter, died in 1981. The Grogan Building, built in 1961 on 22nd Street's 600 block, stands boarded and empty. Gospel promoter Goldie Thompson died in 1972, honored as an African-American broadcasting pioneer.

Charlie Williams, the bolita kingpin who faced down the Klan, was shot dead gangland style in Ybor City in February 1953. More than 3,000 people packed Bethel AME Church for the funeral. U.S. Sen. George Smathers and former Gov. Fuller Warren sent wreaths.

Dr. Fred Alsup, a role model and civil rights pioneer, practiced until last September. He died at age 88 in April.

Mrs. Lelia Bowers, a community matriarch, died the same month at age 77. Her family continues to serve fried chicken every night except Monday at the Sno-Peak. Lights splash across the street, washing the pale facade of the old casino.

Behind it, above The Deuces, a monotonous river of sound whisks and rattles and drums. It is the interstate traffic. It is bound somewhere else.

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