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THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN LAKELAND

Introduction


Longtime teacher and school
administrator, Nettie Adderly

African-Americans came to Lakeland with the expansion of the railroads in the 1880's. Predominantly black railroad crews were engaged in laying track between Kissimmee and Lakeland, and some of them began to settle east of Lake Beulah in the area of what is now the Lakeland Center. Gradually, a small but thriving black community began to emerge in the area roughly bound by Lake Beulah, Main Street, Lime Street, and New York Avenue.

By the turn of the century, the area known as Moorehead, named after the Rev. H. K. Moorehead, had its own school on the corner of Orange and Ohio Streets. There were also several churches in the neighborhood, including the Mount Pleasant A. M. E. Church on the corner of Ohio and Orange across from the school, the Foster A. M. E. Church on West Orange, and the Zion's Hill Primitive Baptist Church on the corner of Connecticut and Lime. There were also several small businesses in the neighborhood, including a number of grocery stores, garages, auto repair shops, and a pharmacy owned by Dr. David J. Simpson, said to be the first black physician in Lakeland. Other early leaders of this close knit community included Amos Stewart, the supervisor of the first school in the community, and Nettie Adderly, a long-time teacher and school administrator.

The Moorehead neighborhood was not the only black enclave in Lakeland. A similarly close knit and thriving community, known locally as Black Bottom, had arisen in the northwestern part of the city in the area bound by Dakota Avenue (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), Florida Avenue, Fifth Street, and Pear Street. Paul A. Diggs, after whom part of the area is now named, and educator William A. Rochelle, after whom the Rochelle High School (now Rochelle School for the Arts) was named, were among the leaders in this community.

The memories of the people who grew up in the neighborhoods were of communities where children could play safely in the streets and where the churches were full on Sundays. But there are also memories of grinding poverty and of opportunities denied due to racism and segregation.

Urban renewal, the civil rights movement, and school integration changed the close knit character of these neighborhoods. The Moorehead community was in fact razed and its residents scattered to make way for the Lakeland Center in the early 1970's. A new generation of leaders emerged in the 1960's and 70's to meet these new challenges and to build on the work of David Simpson, Amos Stewart, Nettie Adderly, Paul Diggs, and William Rochelle.

Dr. John S. Jackson became Lakeland's first black mayor in 1972. Before that, he had been the first black elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 1968. Larry R. Jackson came to Lakeland in 1974 as the city' s first black attorney and devoted the rest of his life tirelessly working to better the lot of the indigent, minorities, and children. He led the federal court fight to achieve racial balance in Polk County schools. He lobbied the City Commission constantly to build a branch library in the northwest part of the city. That facility, opened in 1995, now bears his name. Carrie Oldham became the first African-American woman to serve on the City Commission in 1977. She became mayor in 1980. Others who have carried on the struggle for equality include lawyer Kenneth Glover, teacher and administrator Vivien Postell, and community activists Madalynne Brooks and Doris Moore-Bailey.

The small exhibit of photographs which follows honors the significant role African-Americans have played in the history and development of Lakeland.

                       People/Events                          Places