SARASOTA – As we enter Black History Month, visitors and locals may be surprised to learn about the rich Black history and culture which can be found on Florida’s west coast in Sarasota. During February and beyond, visitors and locals can learn about the area’s more than 100-year-old community Newtown, explore galleries featuring art from Black artists and take in moving performances by the only professional Black theatre group on Florida’s west coast.
In the early 1900s, Jim Crow laws segregated Sarasota’s African American residents, who lived in Overtown, close to downtown. In 1914, they were forced to move into a subdivision called Newtown. Despite segregation, racism and menial jobs, residents faced stiff challenges with resilience, determination, and an indomitable spirit. They educated children, developed their own business district, built churches, and organized social activities with family and faith at the core.
Today, Newtown is bustling with a mix of treasured historic sites and modern yet beloved dining, shopping, art and more. Visitors to Newtown today have several ways to experience this vibrant community.
- Newtown Heritage Trail
- Part of the Newtown Alive initiative, the Newtown Heritage Trail features 15 historic markers to honor African American pioneers who triumphed over oppression, from early settlers to activists, as well as historic architecture and business districts.
- Greater Newtown Historical Gallery
- A mix between a time capsule, museum and educational exhibit, the Greater Newtown Historical Gallery is bursting with the history of Newtown, from proclamations to family photos, artifacts, newspaper clippings and beyond. Compiled by Jetson Grimes, a pillar of the Newtown community who was born less than 30 years after its inception, the gallery showcases the Black experience in the iconic Sarasota neighborhood.
- African American Cultural Resource Center
- Additionally, the African American Cultural Resource Center, located in the North Sarasota Library, includes books, periodicals, videos, photographs, art and posters, all available for visitors to explore Black culture in Newtown and beyond. The Center is open to researchers, teachers, students and visitors alike.
Other ways to celebrate Black history and culture around Sarasota:
- Visions in Black: 3-Gallery Exhibition
- Experience Visions in Black, an exhibition featuring artists of color. This 3-part cross-town gallery collaboration and crosspollination is hosted by the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative. More than 50 artists of African descent, from Tallahassee to Miami, will showcase their work during this event, February 2nd through February 25th. For more information, visit https://suncoastblackartscollaborative.org.
- Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
- The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is the only professional Black theatre found on Florida’s west coast. The renowned WBTT develops and trains African American artists while providing an artistic voice to the Black experience. Visitors are invited to attend award-winning musicals, comedies and dramas that bring diversity and inclusiveness to the region’s cultural landscape. Many local African American artists who have trained with the company have moved to national touring companies, TV shows, and even major record companies. This February, the troupe is performing “Flyin’ West” and the musical “Dreamgirls.” For more information or tickets, visit https://westcoastblacktheatre.org/.
- Free Entertainment at The Bay
- For a family and budget-friendly experience, Sarasota’s newest community park, The Bay, is offering a series of entertainment options during February which highlight Black culture. On February 7, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Jazzlinks group will present “Civil Rights: Bridging the Movement.” On February 16, the park’s series Cinema at The Bay will feature “Black Panther Wakanda: Forever” and on Feb. 24 Pixar’s “Soul.” All activities are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.thebaysarasota.org.
About Sarasota County Situated on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota County welcomes more than 2.7 million visitors annually. Within its 725 square miles, the county serves up a diverse menu of cultural and recreational activities and attractions, including award-winning dining, world-class fine arts and performing arts, professional and amateur sports, and the area’s circus heritage. Vacationers can enjoy city life in downtown Sarasota, revisit old Florida in Englewood and Venice, enjoy some of the best beaches in the U.S. on Siesta Key and Longboat Key, or play in North Port’s many parks and waterways. Sarasota County is perhaps best known for its 35 miles of pristine coastline in addition to 6 barrier islands, delivering options for beach getaways that are unrivaled almost anywhere else in the U.S., including Siesta Beach, named the No. 1 beach in the country and No. 11 in the world in TripAdvisor’s 2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards – the third time it has held the national title. To learn more, visit www.visitsarasota.com. Connect via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.