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 MadameNoire.com

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.

The Soul of Sarasota

Greater Sarasota

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 view the accompanying video produced by PBS

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.

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

perspectives.

• 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: dr.washingtonhill@gmail.com