Feb 2, 2024 - News

St. Petersburg police's Courageous 12 to be honored with new sculpture

A rendering of a monument honoring the Courageous 12.

A rendering of the sculpture honoring the Courageous 12. Photo: Ya La'ford

Tampa artist Ya La'ford has seen how art can spur societal change. She credits Tampa Bay's renaissance over the last decade to the artists who saw its potential, spurring traditions like the SHINE Mural Festival in St. Pete.

  • Her latest project, though, takes a look back at a key moment in local Civil Rights-era history and a group of men who pushed for a different kind of progress.

Why it matters: La'ford, 45, will begin work this month on a sculpture to honor the Courageous 12, the dozen Black St. Petersburg police officers who in the 1960s sued their department for equal rights and won.

Zoom in: The 20-foot sculpture will stand in front of an AC Hotel by Marriott planned for the site of the former St. Petersburg Police Department on Central Avenue, across from Ferg's.

  • It will feature bronze busts of all 12 officers with a shield overhead "that's really going to be an immersive space where everyone is protected," La'ford told Axios.
  • The busts will be at eye-level with viewers to add to the immersive experience, she said.

Flashback: In 1965, a year after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, St. Pete was still heavily segregated — and so was the police department.

  • Black officers were only allowed to patrol Black neighborhoods that were predominantly south of Central Avenue, and had no authority to arrest white residents.
  • Twelve of the city's 15 Black officers put their jobs on the line to sue the department in federal court for discrimination.
  • The initial judge dismissed the case, but the Courageous 12 appealed with the help of the NAACP. In August 1968, the appeals court ruled in their favor.

The big picture: The victory paved the way for similar victories in Tampa and across the country. In the 60 years since, two Black officers have risen the ranks to lead the department, including current chief Anthony Holloway.

A woman with long braids sitting on a green couch with geometric art in the background.
Ya La'ford. Photo: Ya La'ford

Zoom out: La'ford was born in the Bronx and now lives in Carrollwood with her husband, two children, two labradoodles and a backyard turtle. Her family is from Jamaica, where her great-grandfather was a well-known visual artist.

  • She has worked on projects across the country for big-name clients, including the NFL and Nike, and has done several public art installations in Tampa Bay that show off her signature geometric style.
  • One of her favorite pieces is a 20-foot sculpture called "Boulevard Flow" at the Tampa Housing Authority's West River development.
  • The Courageous 12 monument is quickly becoming one of her favorites, too.

What she's saying: "I'm very proud … to be able to have that high honor."

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