Sun, sand and civil rights: Uncovering Black history at the beach and beyond

Sarasota, Florida’s white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters draw visitors from far and wide, but they weren’t always so welcoming.

“Few of our guests, our international and domestic tourists who come here, understand why these beaches are open to Black and brown people from everywhere in the world,” said Vickie Oldham, who chronicled 100 years of local Black history for her hometown. “It’s because of the Black activists that pushed for open access to our pristine beaches.”

Click to read the whole USA Today article by Eve Chen.

“Few of our guests, our international and domestic tourists who come here, understand why these beaches are open to Black and brown people from everywhere in the world,” said Vickie Oldham, who chronicled 100 years of local Black history for her hometown. “It’s because of the Black activists that pushed for open access to our pristine beaches.” 

The Soul of Sarasota | Greater Sarasota Video

Building on her roots in the black church in Newtown, Melanie Lavender turned to writing and performing spoken word as a way to heal from multiple tragedies. She continues to cultivate strength and to speak up about the need for representation in Sarasota. Through her story, we’ll explore Newtown’s rich culture and heritage as a vital force for the future of Sarasota.

Click Here to watch the accompanying video produced by PBS on Facebook Watch

SUNDAY ‘NOIRE: Black Historian Shares The Hidden History Of Newtown, A Historically Black Neighborhood In Florida

Deep within Sarasota, Florida lies the historic neighborhood of Newtown, a community where thousands of African American residents flocked in the early 1900s. The Black community built their own safe haven in the quaint seaside town after Jim Crow Laws enforced racial segregation throughout the South. Formed in 1914, the neighborhood was once home to a number of bustling Black entrepreneurs who unified to develop Newtown’s thriving business district, allowing the community to become self-sustaining. When segregation and racism posed a threat to the Black community’s education and their ability to receive crucial social services, Newtownites banded together to build their own schools, churches, grocery stores and social systems, boldly reclaiming their freedom. Resilience and faith were undoubtedly at the core of Newtown’s indomitable spirit.

While the legacy of Sarasota’s forgotten Black mecca has largely been hidden from history and textbooks, one cultural historian is on a mission to document Newtown’s rich past and uncover the neighborhood heroes who stood on the front lines of freedom to ensure a better future for the next generation.

The story of Newtown started with a segregated community called Overtown, Sarasota’s first Black hub filled with flourishing entrepreneurs, said the CEO and President of Sarasota’s African American Cultural Coalition, Vickie Oldham, who has been stitching together Newtown’s history piece by piece.

Click Here to read the full article by Shannon Dawson on

Home carrying legacy of Sarasota’s first Black community to be relocated, transformed for cultural center

SARASOTA, Fla. – A home in Sarasota‘s Rosemary District will soon carry the legacy of the city’s first Black community. Plans are in the works to transform it into an African American cultural arts center and history museum, but first the home has to be relocated.

“This house was the homestead of Mr. Leonard Reid who was a pioneer in the Sarasota Black community, and Sarasota in general,” explained Walter Gilbert, the senior director of diversity and inclusion at Selby Gardens.

Leonard Reid helped establish and settle the area, once called Overtown. His daughters would grow up, working to educate the children of the community.

As downtown Sarasota grew, developments pushed into Overtown, which pushed residents move north to Newtown.

“They need to know the history behind it. We have had to fight for everything that we have gotten,” said Odessa C. Butler, a Newtown resident.

Click Here to read the full article by Kimberly Kuizon on Fox 13

A coalition is teaching Sarasotans about African American history, as it waits to open a museum

HERALD TRIBUNE- Vickie Oldham wants Sarasotans to understand the courage and dignity of the African American residents who built Sarasota’s infrastructure.

Black laborers built the railroad that ran through downtown Sarasota, Oldham noted. They helped clear snake-infested land on the barrier islands to ready it for development. And some worked for John Ringling’s circus.  

Such stories will be featured in the upcoming Sarasota African American Art Center and History Museum. 

“I feel that in sharing these stories, certainly through a museum, it boosts my pride level in my community,” said Oldham, who is leading the effort to build the museum. “It gives me a sense of pride and place. It lets me know what our ancestors and the pioneers did.”

Click Here to read full story by Anne Snabes from the Herald Tribune.