Area resident remembers a segregated Sarasota

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It's Black History Month, and ABC 7 is working to shed light on our local past. Today we look at mid-Sarasota county in the areas of Laurel and Venice.

Driving by you might not ever notice the historical marker just off Laurel Road. Local resident Sandra Terry knows all about it, though.

"There was a whole community where my mother grew up. Where Mission Valley is. There was a church and a school. The railroad was right there. My grandfather was a foreman," she says.

This little piece of local black history was mostly brought about by industries that are no longer around.

"The turpentine industry and saw mills brought a lot of people here. The turpentine industry is what brought my grandparents here," Terry says.

Though the turpentine business didn't last forever, many who originally came in search of work stayed long after those jobs disappeared.

"You bought land in Laurel because it was really the only place in south Sarasota County that black people owned land," Terry says.

Of course, some of the history isn't pleasant.

"I think it's an important story that should never be forgotten," says Michelle Harm, Curator at the City of Venice archives. The Venice area was not exempt from segregation -- from where you could live to where you went to school, shopped or caught a ride -- and Harm has the documentation to prove it.

"The train depot as it actually exists today, you can see where the black waiting room was and where the white waiting room was," Harm points out.

Segregation was everywhere -- even at the beach. As it turned out, Caspersen Beach in Venice became the only beach for non-whites.

"That was the black beach," Harm says. "People from Sarasota had to come down here to go to the beach."

Despite what many believe, these are issues with a not-so-distant past.

"When you think about it, it was not really that long ago," Harm says. "Sandra Terry is, of course, the first integrated student at Venice High School."

Terry herself is a big piece of the local history. She's been working for decades championing improvements in the Laurel area through the Laurel Civic Association.

"I do feel like a pioneer," she says. "I joke that when I was a kid we didn't even have ditches."

Terry's name is even above the local community center, a place where after-school, mentoring and support programs take place almost every day.

"We probably have the most diverse programs in the entire county," Terry says. "I've never had a parent come walk through that door and ask if it's okay if my child comes here because they are a certain way."

Terry says overall she's proud of the area's past. Overcoming struggles is, after all, a big part of moving forward.