Separate But Not Equal

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NOTE: This story is by Sarasota historian and author Jeff Lahurd. It originally appeared on the Sarasota History Alive webpage. It is reprinted here with permission.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It has never been easy being an African American in Sarasota. Florida had been, after all, a slave state and prejudice flourished long after the Civil War and even after civil rights legislation. The first black members of our community to settle here – “negro” or “colored” were the nicer names by which they were known at the time – were, according to A.B. Edwards, Aaron and Jeannette Bryant, “brought in as, respectively, a household servant for one family…and a maid servant of another.” They were “taught how to work and to know their place. They later married and established their own home, and attended the white Methodist church and all community affairs.”

Two early settlers here were runaway slave, George Washington, who lived near today’s Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and Lewis Colson, who became a well-respected citizen, known as Reverend Colson. He had been with the group of land surveyors who had platted Sarasota in 1885 for the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company.

In 1897, for the consideration of one dollar, he sold to the trustees of the Bethlehem Baptist Church the property on Central and Seventh Street on which the Bethlehem Baptist Church was built. He was the first minister of the church, serving from 1899 until 1918. He and his wife Irene are the only African Americans to be buried in Rosemary Cemetery. ...

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