Team completes 388-page report detailing 100 years of Newtown history

Presentation of findings to be made to the City Commission on June 6

Image courtesy City of Sarasota
Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A report that traces the 100-year history of Sarasota’s African American community has been completed, the Newtown Conservation Historic District (NCHD) team has announced.

The NCHD will make a presentation about its findings during the Sarasota City Commission meeting on Monday, June 6, during the afternoon session, which will begin at 2:30 p.m., a news release says.

Their 338-page document contains data from primary and secondary sources, archival photographs from private collections, excerpts from oral history interviews with community residents, maps of Newtown’s historic boundaries, and details about the community’s architecture, the release explains.

“Our work over the last eight months is transformative,” said NCHD consultant Vickie Oldham in the release. “I am moved by the strong will, resourcefulness and resilience of African American leaders and residents who were buffeted by almost every institution in this town,” she added in the release. “Our report provides an unflinching look at ugly parts of Sarasota’s history, but it also describes awe-inspiring, untold and beautiful stories of heroism, survival and enterprise.”

More than 200 documents were found in historical archives throughout Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties, the release notes, and 42 residents provided personal accounts of their experiences. Chapters in the report cover topics such as Overtown and Newtown’s early settlers, the work and social life of residents, education and schools, politics, medical care, community organizations, the fight for civil rights, military service, sports, and redevelopment efforts in Newtown, the release explains.

“I’ve traveled to many parts of the world, studying the people, cultures, and histories of diverse communities,” said NCHD ethnohistorian and cultural anthropologist Rosalyn Howard in the release. “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,” she added in the release.

Presenters Oldham and Howard will be joined on June 6 by architectural historian Dave Baber and architectural preservationist Chris Wenzel, who analyzed Newtown’s historic resources, including 150 single-family homes, churches and structures, the release points out.

“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 City of Sarasota Senior Planner Clifford Smith in the release.