‘Take Back the Dome’ movement urges reparations to St. Petersburg’s Black community

By Sierra Laco

A local organization is working on an initiative of material and financial reparations to demand the return of the 86 acres of land under Tropicana Field to St. Petersburg’s Black community.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM) is a local organization of white people led by the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). Originated locally under the leadership of St. Petersburg native and APSP co-founder Omali Yeshitela, the movement aims to organize the white community to build a mass movement for reparations to the Black community in solidarity with the Black community’s struggle for liberation.

The land that the Tropicana Field sits upon was once a vibrant Black community. Built between 1890 and 1900, the “Gas Plant District” housed over 100 Black-owned businesses, 800 Black Families, and numerous Black churches. In 1986, the city began the destruction of this community to build the Tropicana Field on the land.

The USM has crafted a feasible economic plan for the city of St. Petersburg to return the land back to its Black citizens—28.6% of which currently live below the poverty line. The USM is hosting a community rally to demand that these reparations are given to the local Black community, and they are also hosting a community teach-in to inform St. Pete locals about the tragic history of the Gas Plant District.

In the 1980s, the city of St. Petersburg displaced over 800 Black families to build what is now known as Tropicana Field. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is demanding the city to give back what was stolen. | Photo by Sierra Laco

Jamie Simpson, an organizer for the St. Petersburg branch of the USM, is leading the task force to get these events organized and ready for the community to attend. As a former University of South Florida St. Petersburg student and frequent visitor to the school, Simpson hopes that more USFSP students will join the movement and its current initiatives.

“USF St. Pete is a great place to recruit for the Uhuru Solidarity Movement because students are often excited to find out there’s something they can do to advocate for change,” Simpson said. “There is a lot of participation and activism that can be won on campus.”

Some professors at USFSP have been vocal in their support of many of the movement’s initiatives. Julie Armstrong, a literature professor at USF and former professor of Simpson; and Chairman of the National Uhuru Solidarity Movement Jesse Nevel, encourage their students to take action with the movement.

Members of the movement often visit USFSP to inform students of what it’s doing and how they can get involved.

One of the students who has recently become involved with the USM is Paige LaMaster, a current pre-med student at USFSP. She met Simpson while he was tabling on campus, and she instantly became interested in the organization and what they stand for.

When asked what advice she would give to other students that are interested in becoming involved with the USM, she had a simple yet powerful answer.

“I would say 100% to get involved with the meetings. Just sit down for one and see some of the people from the committee, get to each other and from there you would realize that it’s actually a very open and welcoming organization you can participate in,” LaMaster said.

The USM hosted the “Reparations Now! Take Back the Dome” Community Rally on Feb. 9 at the Uhuru House located at 1245 18th Ave S. The USM will also host a “Take Back the Dome” Community Teach-in at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at Booker Creek Park, 2300 13th Ave N.

Anyone interested in the movement can visit uhurusolidarity.org to learn more.

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