Harriet Moore is principal of McIntosh Middle School in Sarasota and grew up in the Newtown neighborhood during the 1960’s and ‘70’s. She spent much of her childhood hanging around her parent’s grocery store.
As part of our Telling Tampa Bay Stories series on Newtown, Moore paints a picture of what the business community was like back then.
Newtown, when I was growing up, was a thriving corridor, which was then 27th St., which has now become MLK – Martin Luther King Jr. Way. And my parents had a grocery store there, Moore’s Grocery, which initially was Eddie's Fruit Stand. There was Can’s Grocery, there was Jenkins Grocery, we had two service stations, we had a post office, we had a clinic. And it was thriving and it was bustling. And it was truly a community. Everyone knew everyone.
We were one of the few businesses that offered credit to families and, you know, you either had the spindle or you had the book.
So the spindle was if you wanted to buy, maybe somebody wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes or something, and they didn't have enough change. So they'd write it on there and put it on the spindle, and they’d come back and pay it later that day or later.
The book was when people bought lots of groceries and they could only pay for a certain amount of it. So they kept a running tally and they’d pay for some and, you know, some people never paid any of those things. But that was just the way it was.
In those days, the migrant folks that came into Sarasota, particularly Newtown, were African American, not Hispanic, they were all African American. And they’d come in and I’d see the little boys and girls and I’d always feel so sorry for them because they had you know, tattered clothes and they were dusty and they were hanging off and, and they’d always find their way down to the candy aisle.
So when the kids get down in the candy aisle, I found myself looking in a different direction, because you know, they wanted to take a little treat and I didn't want to see them take it. I understood what that was like, because I would sneak them all the time! But, you know, it was really a great sense of community.
On Sundays, we had Greg Lee, he would be up at the Sun Center, which was where the clinic was, and he'd have his turntables out and he'd spin records. And everybody would just be up on the corner, dancing or listening to music and it was impromptu, it was never planned, but you always knew something was going to be going on.
And so on Sundays people would just walk, you know or just drive up and park. And then there were different groups of guys who had certain kinds of cars, like there were the all the guys that had the Monte Carlo’s and they would cruise through with their flashers. And you'd have the guys with the vans, so you know, you can pick the time period in the ‘70s, and they’d have the designer vans with all the beautiful paint jobs and they would cruise through. And then you had the guys from Bradenton who would cruise through and they had the Volkswagen Beetles with the Rolls Royce fronts. So it was just so cool, there was always a show and always something going on.
But you know, there wasn't a lot of violence and all the kinds of things that people would – Caucasian people here would make it seem like Newtown was this scary and frightening place but it really wasn't. Probably one of the safest places to be at that time. But because it was predominantly African American people would depict it as something that it actually was not. So it was a great place to grow up.
I think growth is important. I know there's a committee right now that's working on trying to revitalize Newtown and bring more businesses into Newtown so that it can be a thriving community again.
I mean, you've got Ringling College right down the street and they're kind of pushing that way. So there's starting to be more of a mix, we're much more diverse in Newtown than we've ever been, both Caucasian, Hispanic – people from all over the world live all over Newtown. It's not a pure African American community anymore.
I'd like to see Newtown revitalized, I'd like to see people doing things and caring for people again, and that still happens. There's a lot that goes on, even though it looks like there isn't there are a lot of things going on to support youth and support families. I would like to see more of it and more unified, and so that people aren't duplicating services, but really working together, which is what it was back in the day. Everybody worked together and kind of came together and said we need to do this and everybody did that.
And I believe that with some of the things that Vickie Oldham and others are doing with the Newtown Alive and some other things that we’re going to see more of those things coming back, because we're educating people about this incredible community, and we don't want to lose it and we don't want to see it go away. It’s my home.
Telling Tampa Bay Stories is an annual series WUSF has produced for the past four years that highlights different communities around the region people may not always hear about. We tell these stories with help from the people who call these places home. This year focuses on Newtown, one of the first African American communities in Sarasota.
The series is produced in partnership with University of South Florida journalism students. WUSF reporter Stephanie Colombini and USF student journalist Rebecca Lee contributed to this story. Conversations were recorded at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex in Newtown.