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Museum presentations and a gala induction ceremony are part of Black History Month observations locally.

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Posted February 8, 2023 | By Andy Fillmore, Correspondent

The Black History Museum of Marion County is sponsoring several events during Black History Month, including two unveiling presentations at the museum as well as an awards gala and induction ceremony that will be held at the newly opened Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place.

Davida Randolph, program manager of the Howard Academy Community Center (formerly Howard High School), in which the Black History Museum of Marion County is located, is overseeing the events.

Exhibits on the Groveland Four and the Rosewood Massacre were opened to the public on Thursday, Feb. 9, at the museum, which is located at 306 N.W. 7th Ave., Ocala.

The Groveland Four case involved four young black men who were accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl in July 1949 in rural Lake County. One of the men was killed during a mob attack and the National Guard was called out, according to a Nov. 22, 2021, report by NBCnews.com. Then NAACP lead attorney Thurgood Marshall served as the men’s defense attorney. In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a pardon for the four and, last year, a Lake County judge exonerated them.

Randolph said the venue for the trial of the four was changed to Marion County. The Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office donated a chair to the museum that was used by Marshall during the trial.

The Rosewood Massacre, sparked by a white woman’s claim of an alleged assault by a Black man, occurred in January 1923 in the small community in Levy County, west of Ocala. Mob violence escalated over several days and ended in the deaths of at least six Black and two white people and “the town was wiped off the map,” according to the Jan 4, 2023, “Smithsonian Magazine” article “How History Forgot Rosewood, a Black Town Razed by a White Mob.”

Lizzie Robinson Jenkins, a relative of a Rosewood survivor and founder of the nonprofit Real Rosewood, was set to appear at the museum on the evening of Feb. 9.

Jenkins, 84, said in a phone interview that she relates the story of Rosewood based on 30 years of research.

Museum presentations

On Feb. 16, at 6 p.m., a presentation about the contributions of the Divine Nine—nine fraternities and sororities formed at historically black universities and colleges during times of racial segregation—will take place at the museum.

Information supplied by the museum indicates that Black fraternities and sororities have been involved in social issues from Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter movement and continue to serve.

The event will include a presentation about Emmett Till, a black teenager who was killed in a racially motivated murder in Mississippi in 1955. His death has been called by some the tragedy that helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Till’s oldest living relative, Thelma Wright Edwards, lives in Ocala.

Black History Museum Archives Awards Gala

The gala will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place, 1812 N.W. 21st Ave., Ocala. It will honor a number of people for their leadership, distinguished work, special achievement or for pioneering as the first Black in a particular field.

They are: 

  • Wantanisha Morant – First African American Executive Director of Human Resources for the Marion County School District. Active in Indigo 4-H, the only African American 4-H in the county and the Ocala Eta Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
  • Theresa Boston Ellis – Chief Financial Officer of Marion County Public Schools, the first African American woman to serve in such a leadership capacity. President of Ocala Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
  • Clyde Neasman – Taught more than 75 African American children to swim at E.D. Croskey Recreation Center. Life member of Ocala Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
  • Jamie Gilmore and Eddie Rocker Sr. -The two brothers founded Kut Different, Inc. which provides mentorship programs for more than 100 young men. The programs, aimed at changing lives, can be found in several schools and community centers.
  • Barbara Brooks – Ramal Education Services, Inc., which she founded, offers tutoring programs, mental health counseling, social work and consulting. It has provided outreaches such as helping needy families during the holidays and providing scholarships for high school students. Brooks is a member of the Ocala Eta Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
  • Regas Woods – A competitor in two international Paralympics, Woods is co-founder of the Never Say Never Foundation, which encourages children and adults who have physical disabilities to live their best life. According to TeamUSA.org, Woods, 42, whose legs were amputated at age 2, competed in the long jump in the 2016 and 2020 games.
  • Cynthia Wilson-Graham – The author, photographer and educator has chronicled generations of the Black community in Marion County, writing books on the late William James, a highly respected community leader, and Austin Long, a longtime West Ocala businessman and community advocate. She co-authored “Remembering Paradise Park: Tourism and Segregation at Silver Springs.” Wilson-Graham operates Helping Hands photography and founded the “Town Talk” newspaper.
  • Carolyn Adams and the late Arthur Adams – They are co-founders of the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness & Community Resources Center, which provides health care and dentistry for residents of northwest Ocala and health education, such as diabetes classes and more, for the greater Ocala area. The center works closely with the Heart of Florida Health Center.
  • James Stockton – President of the NAACP and pastor of Greater New Hope Church, Stockton has “worked tirelessly to address and meet the needs of the community when it comes to voting, education and assisting low-income individuals.” His church has joined with local organizations to provide food giveaways, utility assistance and help for needy families during the holidays.
  • Rose Thomas – Thomas, a retired educator, was instrumental in bringing a Black History Program to Osceola Middle School and devoted time to working with students as a majorette instructor. As a leader in the community, she helped churches and organizations and gave “back to those in need; feeding the homeless, providing shelter and necessities for poverty-stricken families.”

Beacon Of Light Award – Monica Bryant

Bryant has served for more than 20 years as Prevention Coordinator for the Marion County Children’s Alliance. She has helped families impacted by domestic violence and helped provide a safe location for victims. She has been a community leader, bringing her “heart and passion” to organizations such as Interfaith Emergency Services, Governor’s West, Ocala Housing Authority and Community with a Heart, and by serving as chair of a domestic violence workshop and current community meetings on gun violence prevention initiatives. She has been involved with organizations to place homeless persons in temporary housing, providing toys for needy families during the holidays and more.

Unsung Hero Award – Drayton Florence Jr. 

Florence, an Ocala native, attended Vanguard High School and played 11 years in the National Football League. He established the Drayton Florence Foundation in 2005 to “motivate, educate and stimulate youth preparing them for a lifetime of success.” The foundation was expanded in 2010 to include military families. Florence has impacted families locally and in cities in which played football with Thanksgiving meal giveaways, “shop with a jock” and back to school programs. Florence is “proud” when a youth he mentored earns a college scholarship or enters the NFL.

Honorary Inductee – Thelma Wright Edwards

Edwards is the oldest living relative of Emmett Till. She is a public speaker and appeared in the 2022 television documentary “Let the World See,” which also featured former First Lady Michelle Obama and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Edwards babysat for young Emmett at times and lovingly recalls him by the childhood nickname of “Bobo.”

To learn more about the museum presentations, which are free to attend, or the gala, for which tickets are $50 per person, call (352) 671-4175.

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