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Sarasota’s First African-American Community Highlighted At ‘Newtown History Makers’

Feb 1, 2019

Sarasota’s first African-American community, Overtown, will be in the spotlight during a Newtown History Makers panel next week.

Overtown, a segregated residential area of just 20 acres, was the first black community in Sarasota in the 1920s. While Newtown continues to operate as an historical landmark, Overtown was lost to downtown development during the 1960s.

The Newtown Alive initiative, which has launched heritage tourism in Newtown,  has also contributed to economic growth within the community. The program uses historic markers, a website, mobile app and trolley tours to promote awareness of the community.

“The purpose of Newtown Alive is to document the courage, determination, enterprise, resilience of African-American settlers who came to Sarasota,” said Vickie Oldham, director of Newtown Alive.

Oldham will be leading a panel revisiting the history of  Overtown and Newtown. She said both communities provided African-Americans with economic opportunities at a time when they were treated as second-class citizens.

“We will be talking about the pioneers who shaped Sarasota into the the treasure that is in our state and in our country,” said Oldham. “These stories are little known and under reported.”

Oldham will be joined by Shelia Cassundra Hammond Atkins, Lymus Dixon Jr., Walter L. Gilbert III, and Ken Waters. She said each panelist has strong ties to these communities.

“African-Americans built the foundation and infrastructure. The railroads, the bridges, the roads, buildings, they should be honored too,” said Oldham. “That is what Newtown Alive does.”

The event is being presented by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College. It will be held Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Temple Beth Shalom in Sarasota. Visit Osher’s webpage for event details and registration.