Local Black History – Panel 6 – Community

Year

2023

Artist

Keith Goodson

Location

Baker Center School
311 E. Charlotte Avenue

Size

104′ w x 8.5′ h

Mural Creation Sponsors

2023:
Sushila Cherian
In Memory of Dr. JV Cherian

Congregational United Church of Christ

Kelly & Pete Gaylord

The Patterson Foundation

Saint Mary Baptist Church
In Memory of Pastor Isaac Thomas Jr

Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Shively Charitable Foundation
Lt. Col. Scot & Jill Shively

Penny Stiffler

The Community

Panel 6 – Community

In the late 1960’s integration began to take place across the community. Prior to this, Jim Crow laws restricted use of and resulted in separate facilities for the black community. One example was the black community’s recreation center. In the 1940s, a group of black teenagers formed a club called the Team Timers Club. They raised money and along with support from some adults, bought a barracks building from the old Army base at the airport.

It was moved to a lot donated by the City at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and Dupont Street.

With help from Dan Smith Jr. and other carpenters, it was fixed up and became the neighborhood’s recreation center providing a place for black children to gather and play.

In the early 1950s, four local black women formed a social committee to improve the play areas for the children. They did additional repairs to the building and added a playground consisting of a swing set, monkey bars and a merry-go-round.

Mrs. Hazelar Haynes Johnson became the center’s supervisor, chaperone and bus driver. Trips were made to Fort Myers in the summer to visit the black recreation center there for swimming lessons and to play games.

The center became known as “The Rec” and was the hub of activities in the black community. The Catholic church nuns held catechism there, the local black American Legion Post met there, and at Christmas, Santa would arrive at the center to hand out candy and toys. The Rec was the place to go to after school to play games, read old storybooks, enjoy the playground, have birthday parties, host social events, or just hang out.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Donna destroyed the building in 1960. A group of concerned parents pleaded with the City for a new recreation center and the current one was built in the 1960s at the corner of Cooper and Mary Streets where the Baker Academy (built in 1945) once stood.

Below are the only two known photographs of the original center. They show the Black American Legion members in front of the center. You can see part of the original monkey-bars from the playground in the background of the second photo.

All that remains of the original REC center is the center pole from the merry-go-round (seen below in its original location). It was moved by the City to the current REC center on Mary Street along with a plaque that tells its story.

Panel 6 of the new Local Black History mural depicts how we believe the original REC Center and playground would have looked. Photos of original Punta Gorda Army Air Field barracks were used as references.