Florida has a rich and diverse history. African American landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in Sarasota County. While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.
Booker High School
3201 North Orange Avenue
Emma E. Booker, a pioneer black educator, was teaching in Sarasota’s public school for Negro children in the late 1910s. By 1923, she was principal of Sarasota Grammar School, holding classes in rented halls. The Julius Rosenwald Fund helped build a school that opened in 1925 with eight grades. Under Principal J.R. Dixon, grades were added and the first senior class graduated in 1935. Mrs. Booker attended college during summers for over 20 years to earn her Bachelor’s degree in 1937, and the school was renamed in her honor. (941) 355-2967.
Grover & Pearl Koons House
1360 13th Street
This house was occupied by Grover and Pearl Koons between 1927 and 1930. The house is an excellent example of a Mediterranean Revival style bungalow.
The Johnson Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
This structure, built in 1915, was originally located in the unincorporated community of Osprey and served the Osprey Baptist Church congregation. In April 1947, the structure was purchased by the Johnson Chapel congregation and moved to the Church Street location. It is architecturally significant as a representation of a community service building from the 1910’s and as a meeting place for an African-American community.
The Leonard Reid Home
1435 7th Street NR (Private)
A one-story frame vernacular building completed in 1926, the Leonard Reid home was originally located on Coconut Avenue. A highly respected African American pioneer of early Sarasota, Reid helped establish Sarasota’s first black community, Overtown. Working for a fish merchant in 1900, Reid was introduced to Colonel Hamilton Gillespie, a prominent Sarasota developer and its first mayor. Reid worked closely with Gilliespie until his death in 1923. Reid met and married Eddye Coleman in 1901, and the couple moved to this small rental house. He and Eddye helped to establish Sarasota’s second oldest African American church, Payne Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal Methodist Church, in 1906.
The Overtown Community
Extends between Fourth and Tenth Streets from U.S. 41 to Orange Avenue
Though many buildings in this historically African-American community have been lost, others have been rehabilitated and adapted to commercial use. Payne AME Chapel is a symbol of the focus of black spiritual life. The Colson Hotel catered to black workers and tourists, and now serves as multi-family housing. African Americans settled in downtown Sarasota in the 1890s, in an area then known as “Black Bottom,” but by the mid-1920s known as Overtown. The proximity of the black community to downtown prompted some anxiety in the white population, and developers opened a subdivision named Newtown to provide blacks with better places to live. Despite a slow residential migration to Newtown, Overtown continued to operate as the center of African American life in Sarasota. In the mid-1950s demolitions were underway, but the Hood Building and the Payne Chapel are among those saved.
Adapted from Florida Black Heritage Trail, published by the Florida Department of State, in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA, copyright 2007. For more information on African American sites, please visit flheritage.com. Additional information can also be found at: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/milesmedia/floridablackheritage/