As a youngster new to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1956, Jon Wilson rode his bike all over town. He wanted to feel at home in a city far different than the environment he had experienced nearly 2,000 miles away in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, a farming community. Jon’s new elementary school classmates told him never to ride to St. Petersburg’s south side. That part of town, they said, was where Black people lived, although the term they to describe those people was not as civil. It’s a dangerous place, they said. So the first chance he got, Jon rode his bike to the south side. Later he reported to his classmates. “What’s the big deal? Nobody paid any attention to me.” His friends just shook their heads and walked away. Their reaction puzzled Jon. But it may have been an early spark that kindled an interest in the entire St. Petersburg community and how the people in its various neighborhoods related to one another.
Wilson has lived in St. Petersburg since 1956, attending Clearview Elementary, Lealman Junior High School, and Dixie Hollins High School. Wilson attended St. Petersburg Junior College and the University of Florida before enlisting in the Army in 1966. He served on active duty for nearly four years, including a 13-month tour with the Seventh U.S. Cavalry in South Korea, 1968-69. Upon his return to civilian life, Wilson enrolled at the University of South Florida, most often taking classes at USF St. Petersburg. He received a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degrees in journalism studies and liberal arts.
He is the author or co-author of six books. He worked as a reporter and editor for 37 years at the St. Petersburg Times and the Evening Independent and for 11 years at Florida Humanities as communications consultant.
In 2021, Wilson received from Mayor Rick Kriseman a Key to the City of St. Petersburg citing his inclusive chronicling of the city’s history. He has also received lifetime achievement awards from the National Council of Negro Women-St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section and from the Carter G. Woodson Museum of African American History.
His primary hobbies are working out in local gymnasiums and running. Though hardly fast, he has completed long-distance races including the Boston and Marine Corps Marathons, the Vermont 100-miler, and the London to Brighton Road race. He has won a state age-group championship at 1500 meters.
But Jon’s pride and joy is his family. At this writing, he has been married for 47 years to the incomparable Becky Day Wilson, with whom he has two exquisite daughters. From a previous marriage, he has a bold and talented son who is a lifetime musician. His children have blessed him with six grands – four boys and two girls, all of whom are full of surprises and a constant delight.
In closing, Jon would like to express an attitude toward life he tries (though not always successfully) to live up to: Gradatim ferociter, or step by step ferociously. Never, ever give up.