Newtown is a special African American community that grew out of another community.  Overtown was the first enclave or neighborhood established by African American people in Sarasota, Florida. Three institutions were most important: school, church and home.

Most of the new arrivals in Sarasota came looking for a way to better their lives. From the onset, they faced the stiff challenges of racism and segregation. They had to work menial jobs, even with schooling.

Clearly, an indomitable spirit emerged out of their struggle.

They had a strong faith and it brought them through many challenges. Services were held in homes initially, until sanctuaries were constructed that served as the community’s foundation. Children were educated there and churches were places where residents could exercise control over their own destiny and build self-esteem. The segregated south did not provide such amenities.

The residents depended on each other for medical and social services by establishing self-help, social and benevolent organizations.

 

A recurring theme during each oral history interviews was the nurturing incubator that caused Newtown and Overtown residents to thrive.     Everyone knew and cared for one another as “family.”

Of course, circumstances changed due to outward societal influences, crime, the impacts of desegregation and integration and the loss of a cohesive group of influential leaders.

Redevelopment efforts are now underway to raise the consciousness of the community once again, to tear down substandard housing and provide affordable living conditions and build bridges where they had been painfully torn down.

The stories shared by Newtown and Overtown residents are “laugh out loud” funny. Some accounts may make you angry. We hope content of the interviews will be a call to action that revitalizes the community.