One of Vickie Oldham’s earliest memories is watching her grandmother don her white dress and purple-tasseled fez for her lodge meeting at the Evening Star, a black social and benevolent organization that helped fill a gap in social services. It’s a memory that Oldham fully appreciates now that she has led the initiative Newtown Alive to compile, organize and package the history of Newtown, the historically black neighborhood of Sarasota in which she grew up.
“When you see all that power, determination and enterprise in Newtown, I’m proud,” she says.
Since receiving a $50,000 grant from the City of Sarasota in 2015, Oldham and a team of professionals and volunteers have produced a book, Newtown Alive: Courage, Dignity and Determination, a 365-page report, installed 15 historical markers, conducted oral history interviews and inventoried 150 historic Newtown structures. There’s also a website, app, brochures, a traveling exhibit, speakers’ series, trolley tours and curriculum for fourth graders. She’s hoping that work will launch more offshoots—perhaps a bricks-and-mortar museum in a repurposed historic building or a series of graphic novels.
“We need to tell these untold stories so when we’re gone, there will be a record of my ancestors. But it’s bigger than that,” says Oldham, who has worked as a television journalist and in marketing at historically black colleges. “With all the hate speech, the time is right to celebrate contributions of diverse people, to know that there were black people, brown people and white people, who came together and made this community great.”
Come celebrate present and past Unity Award winners with us at a luncheon on February 8 at Michael’s On East. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.