Community scholar and activist Vickie Oldham will moderate a panel exploring the people and events that formed Sarasota’s first black community.
(Sarasota-Manatee) Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College (OLLI at Ringling College) presents “Newtown History Makers,” a panel discussion led by community scholar and activist Vickie Oldham. The panel members, Shelia Cassundra Hammond Atkins, Lymus Dixon Jr., Walter L. Gilbert, III, and Ken Waters, will discuss Sarasota’s first black community, which was originally called Overtown. They’ll also speak about Newtown Alive, an initiative that has launched heritage tourism in Newtown and stimulates economic redevelopment there. The event is February 6, 2:30-4 p.m., at Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 S Tuttle Ave., Sarasota, and is free for Gold Members; $15 for Silver Members and general admission. To register, call 941-309-5111, or visit www.olliatringlingcollege.org.
Vickie Oldham is a journalist, media and public relations strategist, and one of the organizers of Newtown Alive, an organization that documents the history of Sarasota’s African-American communities of Overtown and Newtown with historic markers, a website, mobile app and trolley tours. In this discussion, she and her fellow panel members will explore the history of Sarasota’s first black community, beginning with the African-American pioneer Lewis Colson, who drove the first stake into the ground to plat the town of Sarasota in 1885. Black labor built the community’s infrastructure, and enterprising people of color cleared snake-infested land for developers and harvested crops to fuel the local economy. The panel will also discuss Newtown Alive, the initiative that has launched heritage tourism in Newtown and stimulates economic redevelopment.
The panel includes:
Shelia Cassundra Hammond Atkins was born in Manatee County but grew up in Newtown. Her mother, Delma Hammond, was a cook for Ralph and Ellen Caples and her father, John Hammond, was a butler. The Hammond family lived in the carriage house on the grounds of the mansion situated along Sarasota Bay. They traveled back and forth to Alabama every six months when the Caples returned home for the summer. Atkins attended high school during integration and has lived in Sarasota for more than six decades. She and her husband, former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins, are active in the community.
Lymus Dixon Jr. grew up on land that is now known as the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. His father, Lymus Dixon, Sr., was a chef in the U.S. Army. After serving his country became a groundskeeper for William and Marie Selby for 50 years. During summer months, Dixon’s sons tagged along to “help” with the landscaping work. More often than not, Lymus ran errands with “Uncle Bill” and his childhood friend, Ken Waters. The trio had fun joyriding on Sarasota Bay in the family’s boat with their surrogate uncle, Mr. Selby, the wealthy businessman, as the captain.
Walter L. Gilbert, III, is an “old school” activist. At age eight, Gilbert accompanied his mother to Newtown community meetings and witnessed neighbors and friends of the family articulate their vision for African-American residents’ full access to Sarasota’s amenities. Gilbert was mentored by the late Neil Humphrey Sr., a Newtown entrepreneur, and the late John Rivers. Gilbert participated in a 1979 federal lawsuit against the City of Sarasota that changed the way voters elected commissioners. Most recently, Gilbert spearheaded the recognition of Dr. John W. Chenault, the first African-American physician to receive practicing privileges at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Ken Waters lived with his grandmother, Effie Blue, a cook for Christy and Helen Payne, at their residence adjacent to the Selby property. The Waters and Payne families were like family.
OLLI at Ringling College’s winter semester, which runs through March 8, includes more than 100 courses and programs covering a wide variety of topics. The school’s interim headquarters are at Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 S. Tuttle Ave., Building #1, Sarasota. Classes are also offered at State College of Florida in Lakewood Ranch, The Center on Anna Maria Island, and Westminster Point Pleasant in Bradenton. Weekly classes run two to eight weeks with half day and full day workshops also available. To register, visit www.olliatringlingcollege.org or call 941-309-5111.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College, or OLLI at Ringling College (formerly Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy), offers noncredit educational opportunities for adults to pursue new interests, expand intellectual horizons and enrich their lives. Courses cover a wide range of stimulating topics and are taught by scholars, retired faculty members, and professional practitioners in an engaging, collaborative manner. Visit www.olliatringlingcollege.org.
About Ringling College of Art and Design
Since 1931, Ringling College of Art and Design has cultivated the creative spirit in students from around the globe. The private, not-for-profit fully accredited college offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 12 disciplines and the Bachelor of Arts in two. The College’s rigorous curriculum employs the studio model of teaching and immediately engages students through a comprehensive, first-year program that is both specific to the major of study and focused on the liberal arts. The Ringling College teaching model ultimately shapes students into highly employable and globally aware artists and designers. www.ringling.edu.