Herald Tribune: Historic Leonard Reid home renovation to open as Newtown cultural center in January

SARASOTA — After a year of construction and updates, renovations of the former home of Sarasota African American pioneer Leonard Reid are nearing completion and the former home will soon be opening to the public as a new cultural center for residents and visitors in the historic Newtown community. 

Set to open in late January 2024, the new Sarasota African American Cultural Center is the culmination of years of work from Newtown historian and Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition (SAACC) president Vickie Oldham.  

After successfully rescuing the 1,400-square-foot 1920s home from what could have been a demolition, Oldham was instrumental in not only relocating the home to its permanent museum site but also the decision-maker behind the unique team of builders who stepped up to the task of preserving the Black history of Sarasota for future generations and residents, Envision-CS. Read full article.

Newtown celebrates history of Newtown with new quilt – Observer

The Newtown community in Sarasota, Florida, has a rich history that spans over a century, and now, local artist and community leader, Barbara Gaskin, has created a quilt that honors that history. The quilt, which measures 12 feet by 12 feet, features 36 panels that depict important moments and figures in Newtown’s history.

Gaskin, who has lived in Newtown since the 1970s, spent over three years researching and creating the quilt. She interviewed residents, pored over historical documents and photographs, and worked with other community members to ensure that the quilt accurately represented the community’s history. The result is a stunning work of art that tells the story of Newtown’s past and present.

Each panel of the quilt represents a different aspect of Newtown’s history, from the first African American settlers who arrived in the area in the late 1800s to the present day. Some panels depict notable figures, such as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Newtown community leader Dr. Robert L. Taylor. Others showcase important events, such as the opening of Newtown’s first school for African American children and the desegregation of Sarasota’s public schools in the 1960s.

The quilt has already garnered significant attention and praise from the community. Gaskin hopes that it will serve as a reminder of the rich history and culture of Newtown, and inspire future generations to continue to celebrate and honor that legacy.

In addition to the quilt, Gaskin has also created a book that provides more detailed information about each panel and the history it represents. The book and quilt will be on display at various locations throughout Sarasota, including the Newtown Farmer’s Market and the Sarasota County History Center.

Overall, Gaskin’s quilt is a beautiful and powerful tribute to the history and culture of the Newtown community, and a testament to the importance of preserving and celebrating our shared heritage.

“While Vickie Oldham had heard about Peg Green’s new art quilt, she didn’t experience the emotional impact of the piece until she visited Green’s house to see it for herself. 

The quilt was a sign, said Oldham, that her own work in telling the story of Newtown, a large, predominantly Black community in Sarasota, was leading to progress.

“It made me feel like we’re going somewhere. This work is really transformative,” said Oldham, who is president and CEO of the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition and leader of the project Newtown Alive. “When I see this work that Peg did, I know that (the story) is transforming more people than just me.”

The quilt, titled “Leadership: Vickie Oldham, Newtown Alive,” was created using a wide range of fabrics, including individually-made squares depicting locations in Newtown.

Vickie Oldham

At the center of the scene, is Oldham herself. 

“It touched my heart deeply, that Peg would be inspired and want to spend all those hours taking photographs, cutting out little pieces of fabric and stitching them together, figuring out what goes where. And that fact that she put me in it was overwhelming,” Oldham said.”

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New exhibit to honor baseball icon Buck O’Neil

SARASOTA – The baseball legend lives on here, even though Buck O’Neil has been dead for over a decade.  

Folks around here will be reminded of that this weekend, as the Sarasota neighborhood where he grew up will carry his image in an exhibition on loan from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  

The “Buck O’Neil: Right on Time” exhibition opens Saturday at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex.

The exhibit will honor the late O’Neil, who grew up in Sarasota before becoming a standout player and manager in the Negro Leagues and, late in his life, a beloved baseball icon.  

The inaugural exhibition of the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition is in partnership with the City of Sarasota, the Baltimore Orioles, Newtown Alive and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.  

More:Buck O’Neil’s legacy: Baseball and beyond

With the exception of Sundays, the exhibit can be viewed daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until March 20.  

Read the Article Here.

Now’s time for Sarasota African American museum

In April 2018 Vickie Oldham and 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams wrote a column in the Herald-Tribune bearing the headline “Newtown needs an art center and museum.”

In their opening paragraph Oldham and Williams stated that “cultural arts centers, museums and libraries situated in the heart of African American neighborhoods add texture, vibrancy and richness to a community.”

And in concluding their piece, the duo declared that it was now “time to take another giant, groundbreaking leap forward to construct a center and museum in the community with library capabilities.”

Those words rang true three years ago. And they ring true today, too: Now

is the time to make a Sarasota African American Art Center and History Museum a reality. The good news is that much progress has made since that 2018 column was published.

The Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition has been formed with funding from the city of Sarasota. The mission of the coalition is to preserve, celebrate and share the cultural, artistic and historical heritage of African Americans in Sarasota and beyond – with a goal of opening a physical center for African American culture and history in Newtown.

By working in diligent fashion the coalition has:

• Formally become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

• Recruited outstanding board members.

• Held several community stakeholders meetings to collect diverse


• Conducted research regarding other museums.

• Taken meaningful steps toward bringing a Sarasota museum to life.

So where are we now with a Sarasota African American Art Center and History Museum? After a lot of hard work with the city’s administration and staff, a suitable location for the art center and history museum – Orange Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way – has been chosen. As part of this plan, the historic Leonard Reid House will be moved to the site to serve as a temporary museum home until the permanent facility is built.

During the city commissioners’ July 6 meeting, Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition CEO Vickie Oldham will make a presentation and unveil renderings of a permanent facility. We will also ask the commissioners to direct city staff to develop an agreement allowing the coalition to hold 1.3 acres of the Orange Avenue property while a five-year fundraising effort takes place to build the permanent facility next to the relocated Leonard Reid House.

This effort has drawn a diverse group of community partners – and the city commissioners can play an important role in strengthening the futures of both Newtown and the arts overall in Sarasota.

This is also an important moment for the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition. We appreciate our partnerships with our city and community, and we look forward to seeing these ties grow even stronger as we work together to develop a great asset for Sarasota –. the Sarasota African American Art Center and History Museum.

For details on the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition, visit www.thesaacc.com.

Washington Hill is a Sarasota obstetrician- gynecologist and board chair of the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition. Email: [email protected]

Sarasota’s first Black cultural center edges closer to reality

SARASOTA – The Leonard Reid family played a critical role in the establishment of Sarasota’s earliest African American community. Now their home is one step closer to playing a critical role in preserving that community’s rich history and future. 

In the summer, the city of Sarasota, an area developer, Newtown Alive and the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition reached an agreement to move the historic Reid house to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. corridor in Newtown to serve as the starter home of Sarasota’s first center honoring the legacy and impact of its Black community. 

This week city commissioners agreed to spend up to $116,000 from local business taxes that were previously earmarked for a grant to help business owners weather the coronavirus. The funding will be used to help cover the costs to prepare the parcels on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Orange Avenue. 

GUEST EDITORIAL: The history of Black America by James Stewart

GUEST EDITORIAL: The history of Black America by James Stewart

As president of the Manasota branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, I am responding to a recent letter (“Black History Month provides education,” Oct. 31) disputing the need for a lynching memorial in the local community.

While the writer correctly identifies the name of the organization and its founding date, there are several misconceptions and inaccuracies that need to be addressed. What is now celebrated as Black History Month was inaugurated in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson to highlight the history and accomplishments of African Americans. However, his intent was not to restrict the examination of this topic to February.

Local branches, including the 350-member Manasota branch, were organized to encourage preservation of local records and artifacts. In addition, Woodson championed the dissemination of knowledge through a variety of initiatives, including school curricula.

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SEIDMAN: Historic house to become starter home for city’s first Black culture center

The Leonard Reid home will be moved from the Rosemary District to city land in Newtown to become the beginnings of the Sarasota African American Cultural Center.

It’s not every day you bring together a governmental agency, a developer and two organizations focused on historic preservation and cultural celebration and walk away with a deal that’s satisfying to everyone.

But that’s exactly what happened last week when the city of Sarasota, developer John Hermansen, Newtown Alive and the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition (SAACC) reached an agreement to move a historic house to the Dr. Martin Luther King Way corridor in Newtown to serve as the starter home of Sarasota’s first center honoring the legacy and impact of its Black community.

City commissioners, who voted unanimously for the purchase of nearly two acres at MLK and North Orange Avenue where the house will reside, were happy to envision a destination likely to provide an economic boost to the city’s predominantly African American neighborhood.

Hermansen, eager to develop the plot at Seventh Street and Cohen Way where the house now sits, was so happy to find a suitable site for the historic structure that he offered to bear the cost of moving it.

SAACC board members were happy to see their vision of a physical space in Newtown to exhibit, explore and celebrate Sarasota’s Black heritage, culture and arts coming to fruition much sooner than anticipated.

And Vickie Oldham — a Newtown native who returned from Atlanta in 2015 for a temporary respite, but stayed to become the one-woman force behind Newtown Alive’s documentation of local Black history — was ecstatic to witness what seemed like a serendipitous collision of that effort and the country’s current conversation about race.

“I thought there would always be a remnant of people interested in our history, but I never dreamed the country would be going through the transition and awakening it’s now experiencing,” said Oldham, who, with the city’s support of Newtown Alive, has gathered written and oral histories from Newtown residents and created a walking trail of historic markers, trolley car tours, and a book and website over the past five years. “My heart bleeds for what had to occur for us to get to this point, but it’s as if this is the perfect moment and it was always meant to be.”

Several steps remain for the arrangement to be finalized. The city will not close on seven contracted parcels until Aug. 14; a lease agreement must be negotiated between SAACC and the city; and the historic preservation board must approve moving the former family home of Leonard Reid from the Rosemary District.

However, none of the parties envision obstacles and the project meshes nicely with a $50,000 grant the city recently received from the National Parks Service’s Underrepresented Communities Program to help establish a Newtown Conservation Historic District.

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City of Sarasota Receives Grant to Support Newtown

The Newtown Historic Conservation District is among 18 projects nationwide—the only one in Florida—to be awarded an Underrepresented Community Grant from the National Park Service.

The $50,000 grant will give the city of Sarasota “all the tools in our toolbox” to put together the nomination to have the Newtown Historic Conservation District placed on the National Register of Historic Places, says city planner and historic preservation expert Dr. Clifford Smith.

“This is huge,” says Smith. “Being on the National Register means more grant opportunities for historic preservation. And it means it will allow more flexibility under the Florida Building Code; you’d be exempt from elevating [a structure] under the FEMA 50-percent rule, for example.”

Including the city of Sarasota, eight states, six Native American tribes, two local governments, the District of Columbia and the Federated States of Micronesia were the recipients of a total of $750,000 in Underrepresented Community grants from the National Park Service. This will help them focus on “documenting the homes, lives, landscapes, and experiences of underrepresented peoples who played a significant role in national history,” according to a NPS release.

Smith says more than 500 Newtown buildings, most of them “a really amazing collection of historic single-family residences,” fall within the Newtown Historic Conservation District. “It will be one of the largest national historic districts out there.”

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Pride of place in Newtown

It may not be a lot of money, but it’s a very big deal. And it’s earmarked for Newtown, a unique Sarasota community where folks have always known how to make a little bit go a long way.

Just as intense pressure over time can create diamonds out of coal, the brutal and self-sabotaging practices of chronic racial segregation — compounded by the blithe indifference of snowbirds and retirees flocking here from elsewhere — isolated and forged a close-knit Black community in Sarasota that is distinguished by its authenticity and a vibrant sense of its own past.

This month the U.S. National Park Service has singled out the Newtown Conservation Historic District as one of 18 recipients in its Underrepresented Community Grant Program, which “focuses on documenting the homes, lives, landscapes, and experiences of underrepresented peoples who played a significant role in national history.”

The $50,000 — one of only five grants that large in this year’s program — will pay about a third of the costs involved in qualifying Newtown for the National Register of Historic Places, which in turn would unlock the door to larger grants for preserving some of Newtown’s 500 structures that bear witness to its legacy — as a century-old home for Floridians who felt unwelcome and unappreciated elsewhere.

Especially at this present moment, when new generations of Americans are coming of age less burdened by the self-exonerating narratives that have long impeded progress for our Black citizens, honest reevaluations of our nation’s past are being allowed to resonate. Because of the singular combination of forces that created Newtown — not simply as a Black section of the city but as a coherent and largely self-determining community — it can be restored and interpreted as a living testimony to hard truths that we forget at our peril.

Years of neglect brought hardship and trouble to Newtown. But, left to their own devices, its residents rose up to foster pride and joy in their own community. Central to this solidarity were Newtown’s dozens of churches, many of which still stand.

Newtown Alive, a team of local historians led by community scholar Vickie Oldham, started the work of officially documenting Black Sarasota in 2016. The task force’s full report, available at newtownalive.org, describes the communities’ churches as centers of empowerment.

“The church offered a place of refuge and peace,” Oldham told the Herald-Tribune in 2018. “It was also a meeting place to develop a plan to deal with hatred head-on.”

This redemptive and courageous aspect of a shameful past is instructive for us all, and well worth preserving. Sarasota is fortunate to have this diamond in our midst, and this federal recognition of Newtown’s distinctive character could enable us to reframe that past more authentically for future generations of Florida tourists.

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