May Happenings at the History Center

Bartow, Fla (April 29, 2019) -- Journey into Polk history this month at the Polk County History Center. The following programs and events are open to the public and free of charge:

  • May’s Family Program – Curators of Curiosity - All Month
    • We are celebrating mothers this month at the History Center. Students will make their own book to celebrate their mother and all the wonderful things they do to take care of their families.
    • History Time Tots, a story and activity time, designed for ages five and under, will take place at 2 p.m., Saturday, May 4, and at 10 a.m., Tuesday, May 14. Cintia Ally, curator of education and programming, will read, “My Mom,” by Anthony Browne.

  • May 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Race and Culture Lecture Series – “Remembering Paradise Park,” by Lu Vickers
    • In 1949, during the days of Jim Crow, when black Americans did not have access to many of the nation’s recreation areas, Silver Springs’ owners Carl Ray and Shorty Davidson did something no other Florida attraction did: they opened a parallel attraction for black Americans downriver from the headspring, calling it Paradise Park for Colored People. They did so at the urging of their black American glass bottom boat captains who wanted their families and friends to have access to one of Florida’s most famous natural resources: Silver Springs. Ray and Davidson put Eddie Vereen, a former Silver Springs’ boat captain, in complete control of Paradise Park and he made it into one of the most popular places for black Americans to visit from 1949 to 1969 when it closed. This presentation will use vintage photographs to cover the history of segregation in recreation areas across the country and delve more deeply into the history of black Americans at Silver Springs, from its earliest days to the heyday of Paradise Park, using vintage photographs, video and brochures.

Lu Vickers is the author of one novel and several books on Florida history, including “Weeki Wachee, City of Mermaids,” and, “Cypress Gardens: America’s Tropical Wonderland.” In 2014, as she was in the final stages of editing her most recent book, “Remembering Paradise Park: Tourism and Segregation at Silver Springs,” she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

  • Book Club Recommended Reading is, “Remembering Paradise Park: Tourism and Segregation at Silver Springs,” by Lu Vickers and Cynthia Wilson-Graham
    • Paradise Park was the “colored only” counterpart to Silver Springs, a central Florida tourist attraction famous for its crystal-clear water and glass bottom boats. Together the two parks comprised one of the biggest recreational facilities in the country before Disney World. From 1949 to 1969, boats passed each other on the Silver River—blacks on one side, whites on the other. Though the patrons of both parks shared the same river, they seldom crossed the invisible line in the water.

  •  May 18, 11 a.m. – Architectural Tour
    • Join us for an architectural tour of the History Center and learn about neoclassical architecture, the construction of the building and the stories behind the iconic Old Polk County Courthouse. The architectural tour is at 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month.
  • May 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Race and Culture Lecture Series Special Event: Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration – “An Evening of Jazz and Multicolored Memories,” by Dr. Kitty Oliver
    • This event features a professionally-performed cabaret performance of inspirational jazz vocals and literary stories tracing the common journey of native-born Americans and immigrants as we adapt to life in a diverse society and social change on a global scale. Dr. Oliver shares personal experiences moving from segregation to integration to multicultural diversity in the international arena, drawing on poignant, humorous, revealing reflections as an author, race relations oral historian, national media personality and recording artist who talks about race in a hopeful, healing way. This innovative “Race and Change” program has family-friendly appeal to audiences across races, ethnicities, cultures and generations using music and storytelling to relate history to the present and bringing together people across cultures for an inspirational, entertaining event.

The festivities also include a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by William Lloyd Harris, historian to the Polk County Historical Commission and trustee emeritus, Polk County Historical Association. The reading coincides with Florida’s Emancipation Day, celebrated every May 20. Union Brigadier General Edward McCook first proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect in Florida in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865, 11 days after the end of the Civil War and two years after the proclamation was first issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

  • May 21, 12:15 to 1 p.m. – Out of the Archives Speaker Series – “Don’t Forget the Stamp: A Look at Historic Postcards and the History They Hold,” by Courtney Hill, Student Intern, Florida Southern College
    • Have you ever wondered what kinds of unique items are stored in the special collections archives of a historical and genealogical library? Attend this new series to discover the hidden treasures of the Polk County History Center.

Courtney Hill, an intern from Florida Southern College, will present the historic postcard collection which is housed in the History Center’s special Collection archives. Organizing and digitally preserving these postcards was part of her senior semester project. With more than 600 postcards specific to Florida, and hundreds more from around the country, Hill will describe the significance of preserving these postcards, as well as picking out some of her favorite ones to share with the audience.

The Polk County History Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 100 E. Main St. in Bartow. Visit or call (863) 534-4386 for more information on exhibits and programming. All programs and events are free and open to the public.

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