Baker Center School
311 E. Charlotte Avenue
104′ w x 8.5′ h
Mural Creation Sponsors
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
Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society
Bank of America
The African American Community & the Community at Large
Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society
About the mural
This mural’s ten panels capture slices of the area’s local Black history. Each panel represents a specific area of focus, capturing key individuals and events involved in the development of the Punta Gorda area.
The Panels are (Click on the Links below to learn more):
- The Early Years: Many Blacks were part of the local community in the early years of Punta Gorda. Most of Black railroad surveying crew settled here after the train arrived in 1886, as the rails were not extended further south until 1904. The Hotel Punta Gorda was completed in 1888, built by workmen, said to be 200 in number and majority Black. Fishing became the main occupation for most, sailing sharpie boats docked at what became known as “Sharpie Town” east of town at the water’s edge end of Cooper Street. (LEARN MORE)
- Religion: Dan Smith, a member of the railroad surveying crew who settled in Punta Gorda is featured in this panel. He was deeply religious and in 1886, built a “brush arbor” where he organized the town’s first Black religious services. This panel captures what the brush arbor church service might have looked like back in the day. (LEARN MORE)
- Education 1: Benjamin Joshua Baker was recruited to teach at the first “colored” schoolhouse built in Punta Gorda in 1902. Baker established the “colored” school that eventually served grades 1-8 and was the only teacher for some time. As the school grew, he became principal of “Baker Academy” teaching for 50 years. He took a personal interest in every student, giving a new Bible to every graduate. (LEARN MORE)
- Education 2: As the Black population grew over the years, Baker Academy was expanded. In 1958 a new school was built on Charlotte Avenue and an addition added in 1962. The school was expanded to seventh grade in 1958 and grades eighth and ninth were added in 1959. Since the Academy was the only school for Black students in Charlotte County, children were bussed from across the county to Punta Gorda. Driving the bus from 1945-1964 was Mary Nightingale (from 1945-1964). She also worked as a cook at the school. This panel captures the 1942 school along with Mary Nightingale and her school bus. (LEARN MORE)
- Desegregation: The Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954 (Brown v Board of Education), but Florida, for the most part, was in no hurry to comply. After graduating Baker Academy, Charlotte County Black students were bussed to Dunbar High School in Fort Myers to complete their education.
In 1962, a group of local Black leaders, led by Bessie Bryant, formed a committee to address the busing of students outside the county and lobbied the Charlotte County school board for a better solution. On September 3rd, 1963, five hand-selected Black students walked through the doors of Charlotte High School, starting the desegregation of the county’s schools. (LEARN MORE)
- Community: 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 became the neighborhood’s recreation center. Known as “The Rec,” it provided a place for Black children to gather and play and served as a hub of activities in the Black community. (LEARN MORE)
- Military: The local Black community has a long history of military service starting with Black Union soldiers who settled here right after the Civil War. During WWII, six brothers from one Punta Gorda family enlisted to serve our country. This panel features one of them, Lt. Charles Bailey, a Tuskegee airman, along with his P-51 Mustang “My Buddy.” (LEARN MORE)
- Government: The local Black community played a role in Punta Gorda’s government from the beginning. On December 3rd, 1887, 34 registered male voters met at Thomas Hector’s upstairs pool hall and voted to incorporate the town, establish a municipal government, and rename the town Punta Gorda. The voters included 4 black settlers: Sam Kenedy, O.B. Armstrong, E.C. Jackson, and Elihu Justice.
Two short years later, Robert Meacham, a prominent Black Florida legislator and preacher, was appointed Punta Gorda’s postmaster, a prominent position back in the day. This panel captures Robert Meacham and the first railroad depot at the “wye” in the tracks which served as the post office during his postmaster tenure. (LEARN MORE)
- Entertainment: Gollman’s Bar opened in 1944 and was located at the corner of Virginia and Cochran (now MLK Blvd). It served the local Black community as a place for music and a safe haven for live entertainment in the segregated south. The Gollman’s second oldest child, Nathaniel, had a jazz band called “Nat and His Florida Stompers” who played at Gollman’s as well as throughout southwest Florida and are featured in this panel. (LEARN MORE)
- Sports: Tommy Fulton was a Charlotte High School Field and Track star and three-time state champion. His High School records for the the 1-mile and 2-mile races held for 42 and 47 years respectively. In college he becoming the second fastest Black man in the United States running the 1-mile in 3:57.8. His Tarpon Hall of Fame photo is featured in this panel.
This panel also pays tribute to the Punta Gorda Negro baseball team and the Black community’s baseball field that once stood where the Baker Center School is today at the corner of Charlotte and Cochran (now MLK Boulevard). (LEARN MORE)
The original mural was created in 2003 on the Clement building (dedicated on November 20, 2003) but was destroyed by Hurricane Charley on August 13, 2004. A recreation of the original mural was painted by the original artist at this location and rededicated on November 15, 2007.
In 2023, the mural was completely refreshed to feature more information about the individuals included in the mural, new content, and more importantly, a new design to more effectively communicate this important history and draw the viewer in to learn more. The mural was dedicated on February 25, 2023. Videos of the individual speakers who presented the history in each panel can be found on our Youtube channel.