Some People Are Upset by Proposed Change at St. Petersburg African-American History Museum

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Through budget presentations and academic updates, they waited for an hour and a half, some sitting but many standing, for their chance to speak. Their poster-board signs of protest leaned against a chair in the audience: “DIVIDED WE FAIL,” “TALK DON’T TAKE,” “TOGETHER IS BETTER.”

Nearly 20 angry and frustrated people came to the St. Petersburg College Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday because of an unexpected power struggle over control of a community museum.

The St. Petersburg Housing Authority owns the building in which the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum operates. On Thursday, the housing authority board is scheduled to vote on whether it will end its relationship with those currently in charge of the museum and instead lease the facility on 9th Avenue South to SPC, which would open its own African American museum. Because the Woodson board owns the name, SPC would need a new one.

On Tuesday, because the issue had become so contentious, housing authority commissioners said they would consider postponing the vote.

Woodson board members said they only learned of the possible change in control during a meeting two weeks ago at which staff from the college presented to the housing authority their plan for a new museum. On Monday, Ray Arsenault, a Woodson board member and history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, referred to the move as a “hostile takeover.”

Darrell Irions, the housing authority’s chief executive officer, described the situation more simply. His organization, he said, is the landlord, and may rent the building to anyone it wishes. The Woodson’s lease ends in July and, according Irions, the organization has never met the museum’s original objective.

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Source: Tampa Bay Times | Katie Mettler and John Woodrow Cox

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