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Newtown celebrates 100th anniversary

Posted at 5:29 PM, Apr 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-23 20:02:29-04

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It's a big day for a Sarasota neighborhood. Today marks 100 years since the founding of Newtown, and the community is gathering to celebrate its centennial. And as the celebration begins, the focus is now on the area's history.

Black and white photos and one book are just a few of the items that detail the history of a community that began in the early 1900s. At that time, the Rosemary District and an area called "Overtown" were thriving black communities. Some white residents complained that the communities were too close to downtown, which prompted officials to move the black citizens further north.

"African-Americans were designated the most undesirable parts of the community, and at the time this was probably considered the most undesirables part of the area, so they had to do something with black people," says Newton resident Jetson Grimes.

That something was the creation of a small subdivision in an agricultural area that stretched just a few blocks. It was called Newtown, and within a few years it had transformed into a bustling community.

"We didn't need to go outside the community to survive,” says Grimes. “We had grocery stores, we had a filling station, we had hair solons, we had barber shops."

94-year-old BW Powell remembers the times all too well

"There were different little stores out here, much more than there is now,” Powell says, “so you didn't have to go far for anything.”

Powell says those businesses were vital, since residents were met with opposition when they did leave the confines of the community.

"Segregation was high,” Powell says. “You go down in the city [and] there was two water fountains -- one for colors one for white."

The hostile environment was an incentive for many in the community to make Newtown as self-sufficient as possible.

"That’s the resilience of Newtown,” says Sarasota Vice-Mayor Willie Shaw. “We keep bouncing back; we have before and we will again. It’s like the penny that just won’t go away. We're here to stay."