top of page

I AM: Commemorating 150 years of black history in Pinellas County

I haven’t forgotten part 2 of the story of Mercy Hospital but I was recently reminded, by Senator Rouson, that this year marks the 150th anniversary of a very significant event in our city’s history and in local African American history. We cannot let the year end without commemorating this event and so I have chosen to share that story in this column. In two weeks, I will complete the Mercy Hospital story.


In 1868, one hundred and fifty years ago this year, John Donaldson and Anna Germain became the first African Americans to settle permanently in lower Pinellas, what would become St. Petersburg. Donaldson arrived shortly after the end of the Civil War arriving by oxcart to work with homesteader Louis Bell, Jr. He met Anna Germaine who also worked for Bell. They married and moved to their own homestead; forty acres of land about a mile northwest of Lake Maggiore in a section of the city now known as Midtown.


Donaldson, a formerly enslaved person from Alabama played a significant role in the history of this city. He worked on the construction of the Detroit Hotel and the Railroad Pier it is said that he signed the petition for St. Petersburg to secede from Hillsborough County. The Pinellas Peninsula had long been neglected by Hillsborough County. A petition was circulated in 1907 and after four years of battling Pinellas won its fight for independence and according to one source on January 1, 1912 Pinellas County came into being.


Because his homestead was isolated and quite distant from other settlers, he was “tolerated” among the white population. According to early settler John Bethell, Donaldson was “a man universally respected and one who really kept pace with his white neighbors.”

According to some sources both John Donaldson and his wife Anna Germain Donaldson are buried in Glen Oaks Cemetery, in South St. Petersburg.


In my search for more information about the Donaldson family I found very little information. In the nine books in my personal library only three mentioned John Donaldson; two with pictures and captions only and one in a time line. This dearth of information may best be summed up by this statement in the publication Pinellas County Historical Background, “The historical documentation of African Americans in Pinellas still lags behind white settlers’ stories.”


Sources:

Michaels, W. (2012) The Making of St. Petersburg, Charleston, SC. The History Press.


Peck, R. & Wilson, J. (2008) St. Petersburg’s Historic African American Neighborhoods, Charleston, SC. The History Press.


Schnur, J.A. (1966) Recovering and Discovering Our Past: The African-American Experience in St. Petersburg. Retrieved from http://digital.usfsp.edu/fac_publications


Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners. (December,2008) Pinellas County Historical Background. 3rd Edition. Retrieved November 28, 2018 from www.pinellascounty.org/plan/pdf_files/pchb.pdf


www.flickr.com/photos/spmoh-archives

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page