Methodist Town Pioneers
By: Gabby Dacosta
The Methodist Town Pioneers was an organization consisting of past Methodist Town residents who reunited and worked to represent the people of Methodist Town as well as show that they “exist” by solidifying their determination, Black Heritage, and togetherness. They organized and held their first annual reunion in June 1990.
Methodist Town was originally named after the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was located there and was the focal point of activities in the community.
The Methodist Pioneers group was organized to remind members about where they came from and recognize their upbringings and teachings by allowing them to keep a connection with one another. After desegregation separated many Methodist Town residents, meetings and annual gatherings reunited the community so they could keep in touch. They held meetings, call to orders, prayers, and discussed projects for the city to not only benefit the people of Methodist Town but the larger community as well.
The Methodist Town Pioneers group was organized under their president, Charles W. Howard, and consisted of several officers and over 100 members. Howard is recognized as a strong leader who put all he had into it so that everyone could be successful and prosper. It was made up mostly of people who were born and raised in Methodist Town, however, several others were not born in the town.
Chester Lucius James, Sr., originally from Martin, Florida, lived in Methodist Town since 1911. He moved to the community when he was in his late 20s. He married Rachel Ella Daniels and together, they opened a private school for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. As he was active with his church, Bethel Community Baptist, and a member of several civic organizations, such as the Democratic Club an active layman of the city Council, he devoted his life to social-political, and religious activities. City Council passed a resolution in the mid-’70s making him the Mayor of Jamestown.
In 1973, Methodist Town voters called and approved the plan for redevelopment and housing. It called for 350 two-story townhouses, the construction of two high-rise apartment buildings on either side of John Knox apartments, and two mid-rise apartments on 13th Street. However, the plan was defeated by a city-wide vote. James Sr. pressed on, advocating for equal housing for Methodist Town residents.
In 1974, City Council approved a plan to construct 65 townhouses in the Methodist Town area, which then became called “Jamestown.” By 1990, Jamestown had 72 rental units owned by the City of St. Petersburg. With over 50 townhouses, 17 apartments, and The Dwight Jones Center that houses a Boy’s Club, a Girl’s Club, and a Daycare Facility leased to private entrepreneurs.
Edward Donaldson is recognized as Pinellas County’s first native-born black male. He was the fourth of eleven children born to his parents who traveled to Florida from Alabama in 1868. The Donaldson family were the only black people in the area until 1888 when the Orange Belt Railroad brought many black laborers and their families.
Donaldson is recognized as a successful construction engineer who helped build St. Petersburg and also supervised construction crews. After working for the City for 31 years, he retired. Afterward, he and hi wife ran a concession stand-in, which is now recognized as Demens Landing for another decade.
He died in 1967.
Although Methodist Town residents were separated during desegregation, The Methodist Town Pioneers allowed them to reconnect with each other, remember where they came from, and work to preserve their existence and benefit the Black community.
President – Charles W. Howard
Vice President – Jenethyl Moses Burnett
Financial Secretary – Mary Evelyn Burns
Assistant Financial Secretary – Needa M. Spells
Recording Secretary – Diane Brown
Treasurer – Erma Washingtion
Planning Committee Chairman – Simon Matthews
Fund Raising Committee Chairlady – Althea Williams Young
This information came from The Methodist Town Pioneers First Annual Reunion pamphlet as well as the words of Ms. Katie M. Grimes