BY VICKIE OLDHAM
Oral history interviews were conducted with 42 Overtown and Newtown residents. Their stories are sprinkled throughout chapters of the Newtown Conservation Historic District research report.
A research report about the 100-year history of Sarasota’s African American community shows the resilience, courage, creativity and resourcefulness of its leaders and residents. Their stories are contained in 19 chapters of a 340 page booklet commissioned by the Sarasota City Commission. On Monday, June 6 at 2:30 p.m. joined by a contingency of supporters, the pioneers filled the chamber at city hall to hear the final presentation of the Newtown Conservation Historic District (NCHD) team. The effects of an impending tropical storm didn’t keep them away.
Sarasota City Com- missioners unanimously accepted the report and gave the nod for the next phase to begin with the same team at the helm.
“Our work over the last eight months was life changing for me,” said consultant Vickie Oldham. “I am moved by the strong will of Newtown residents who were buffeted by almost every institution in this town. The report provides an unflinching look at ugly parts of our history, but it also describes aweinspiring, untold and beautiful stories of heroism, survival and enterprise” Oldham added.
A diverse group of volunteer researchers, including members of the Manasota Association for the Study of African American Life and History collected data from more than 200 primary and secondary sources. Archival photographs, excerpts from 42 oral history interviews with community residents, maps of Newtown’s historic boundaries, and details about its architecture are used.
“I’ve traveled to many parts of the world, studying the people, cultures, and histories of diverse communities. Each has its own remarkable story. What impresses me most about the culture and history of the people of Newtown is the dedication to their faith and families, their defiance of others people’s notions of their inferiority, their bold challenges to the laws and cultural conventions of segregation in Sarasota, and their reliance upon one another to survive and thrive,” said NCHD Ethnohistorian and Cultural Anthropologist Dr. Rosalyn Howard.
Architectural Historian Dave Baber and Architectural Preservationist Chris Wenzel analyzed Newtown’s historic resources which includes 150 single family homes, churches and structures.
“The report about Newtown’s rich history and heritage exceeds expectations and will have far reaching implications for one of our oldest neighborhoods as well as our city,” said senior planner for the City of Sarasota Dr. Clifford Smith.