Sarasota’s Newtown Community Added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail as Southernmost Attraction
Designation commemorated with reenactment of Newtown beach caravans and Lido Beach wade-ins
SARASOTA, FL (February 4, 2019) – Visit Sarasota County is proud to announce the addition of The Newtown African American Heritage Trail as an official attraction on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which has more than 100 attractions across 15 states. The Newtown African American Heritage Trail is now the southernmost site. The announcement was made in Sarasota, Florida by Vickie Oldham, founder of Newtown Alive!, an organization formed to promote the history and culture of Newtown, one of Sarasota’s oldest communities, at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration Breakfast on January 21, 2019 at the Robert L. Taylor Complex in cooperation with Visit Sarasota County (VSC) and the MLK Celebration Committee.
The Newtown African American Heritage Trail attraction on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail highlights the history of Sarasota’s African-American community, Newtown and Newtown Alive! tours and will focus on the 1950s and 1960s efforts of Newtown residents to desegregate Sarasota’s beaches. These efforts included car caravans from the Newtown com-munity to Lido Beach to hold “wade-ins” to attempt to force beach integration.
To commemorate the addition of Newtown African American Heritage Trail to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, VSC and Newtown Alive! organized, facilitated and led a reenactment of the beach caravans and wade-ins following the MLK Day Celebration Break-fast. Two trolleys packed with more than 70 participants – some including original caravan participants and their descendants as well as Florida Senator Nina Turner and Sarasota community leaders – led a car caravan to Lido Beach. At Lido Beach, riders piled out of the trolleys and cars to walk the shore and wade in the water as Newtown activists did in the 1950s and 1960s before the segregation of Florida’s beaches.
These “beach wade-ins” of the 1950s drew media attention and opened an early front in the fight for equal rights years before better-known state and national civil rights victories of the 1960s. The wade-ins, modeled after lunch counter sit-ins, coupled with activists’ attendance at city and county commission meetings moved the needle toward beach access at a time when less than two miles of Florida’s 2,000 miles of beaches were open for use by African Americans. It wasn’t until the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Sarasota County beaches were fully integrated.
Visitors can visit and experience the Newtown African American Heritage Trail through Newtown Alive’s narrated trolley tours, available on Feb. 2, 6, 8 and 24 and throughout the year. Aboard the trolley tour, guests are treated to onboard storytelling by African American pioneers who transformed one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and freedom song leaders provide musical inspiration. The cost is $40 per person. For more information and to book a tour, visit www.newtownalive.org/book-trolley-tour/.
About Sarasota County
Visit Sarasota County leads and supports the tourism industry in Sarasota County by providing the highest quality, and most innovative, marketing programs and promotions to ensure the continued growth of tourism and travel from visitors around the world. It is the mission of VSC is to make Sarasota County the must experience destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast. To learn more, visit www.visitsarasota.com.
About the U.S. Civil Rights Trail
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a collection of churches, courthouses, schools, museums and other landmarks primarily in the Southern states where activists challenged segregation in the 1950s and 1960s to advance social justice. Famous sites such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s where sit-ins began; the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee; and Dr. King’s birthplace in Atlanta, to name a few. The people, locations and destinations included in the Civil Rights Trail provide a way for families, travelers and educators to experience history firsthand and tell the story of how “what happened here changed the world.” For details about dozens of significant sites and to see interviews with civil rights foot soldiers, visit www.CivilRightsTrail.com.