In praise of Dr. Gilbert Leggett, who fought for Blacks to have voting rights in the Democratic Party in 1940s

Dr. Gilbert Leggett/Photo credit: flickr

He is known for his philanthropic and selfless work in the City of St. Petersburg. Dr. Gilbert Leggett volunteered his services by treating anyone who needed dental services whether they could pay or not. Even when he was relocated from the business district of Central Avenue to Ninth Avenue South as a result of a formal policy to racially zone the City of St. Petersburg, he continued his service to the poor.

Many people still found a way of getting to his new dental office to be treated and ensured he stayed in business, according to The Weekly Challenger. Leggett was down to earth and never basked in his glory despite his accomplishments in the area of business and advocacy. His goal was to see an improvement in the life of the community he lived in and his children.

He is celebrated as a trailblazer and a beacon of hope to many in the City of St. Petersburg. He was named one of Pinellas County’s most influential five in 2011 in the city’s first 100 years by the Tampa Bay Times. He was placed in the same league as George S. Gandy, who built the first bridge to Tampa, and W.L. Straub, who championed the secession of Pinellas from Hillsborough County. His grandson, Gilbert “Rickey” Leggett II, described him as diligent and a man who pursued his cause with determination. He was a giant in his own right and a force to reckon with.

Leggett footed the bills for his own education from a tailoring trade he learned. He used proceeds from his work as a tailor to pay for a dental school in Nashville, Tennessee, before proceeding to St. Petersburg in 1926.  

When he noticed that Blacks had no voting rights in the Democratic Party, he led the legal fight in 1946 to allow African Americans the right to vote in the Democratic Party Primary. He established the St. Petersburg Non-Partisan Voters League to rally people to fight for their rights.

He dedicated his life to working tirelessly to improve the quality of life in St. Petersburg irrespective of the stiff opposition against his campaign. Leggett was actively involved in the development of the Melrose Park YMCA. Even though the initiative was costly, he saw it as a project that will touch the lives of many in the community.

His grandson recalled how they visited the center to play sports. A trail marker has been erected at Leggett’s former building on Ninth Avenue South for the Ambassador Club.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 21, 2022


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