Remembering Your Roots

Few books contain the stories or the voices that tell about the life of the city's early black settlers. Where are the tales written that recount the lives of the black pioneers who helped build the city? Where are the memories of their families? Be a witness to the voices that tell the story in these historical accounts of early settlers in Boward County.

Across the Tracks Cover"Across The Tracks" by Dr. Gwendolyn Hankerson with the Council of Elders

The East Cost Railroad tracks served as a dividing line for blacks and whites in most Florida cities. In spite of the fact that blacks lived on the other side of the tracks, they survived and excelled. People knew each other by name, lived in a village environment and looked out for each other. "There was no crime and the black people of Broward County were happy, despite their separation from the rest of society". "Across the Tracks" depicts the authentic story of early African-American settlers in Broward as lived and told by the Elders of Broward County. These stories date back to the early 1920s and will provide a historical reference for generations to come.

This book is dedicated to the girls and boys of Broward County--both black and white--who, without precedent, are successfully navigating the turbulent seas of desegregation. Tossed about and often permanently scarred by the billows of inadequate opportunity and experience, insensitivity, ignorance and baseless fears, the children hold beacons for the rest to follow. They are our most honored pioneers.

This documentary has been published to pay tribute to the black pioneers of Broward County, Florida. If anyone should, from this day forward presume to identify THE leader of the black community, that person should read this book, and remember that in the black community the leaders are legend.

Too often, the presence and heartbeat of Fort Lauderdale's black residents are absent from the telling of the city's early days. We must challenge the notion that black residents played no role, and begin resurrecting the story of these early settlers. Ignoring the black pioneer renders the history of Fort Lauderdale less than accurate.

After all, from the black men aboard Spanish ships investigating Florida's coast in the 1500s and 1600s, to the runaway slaves who sought Florida as a haven before it was acquired as a state in 1821, to those who served in the U. S. Army as scouts and interpreters--black folks were there.

Yet, except in generalities and tidbits, the stories of the black pioneers have not been well-documented. As the homesteaders died off, their stories vanished with them. Thankfully, a few old-timers left behind rich oral histories. This book is an attempt to gather some of their experiences, to capture the voices that tell the story of Fort Lauderdale's black settlers.

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    Florida's Emancipation Day is 20 Some' May. Like Juneteenth is to Texas, May 20, 1865 is the day that the slaves in Florida were told they were free.

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    Ben Williams CutoutMr. Benjamin Williams, who is often called "Mr. Fantastic," is the 2013 Tree of Life Honoree. In addition to serving three four-year terms on the Broward County School Board as the Member for District 5, Mr. Williams had a outstanding career as an educator and administrator in Broward County Schools. During his years as a administrator, he is noted as designing and implementing the county's first magnet program at Walker Elementary in 1975, he later took the Performing Arts Magnet program to Parkway Middle School in 1988 and added technology to the curriculum as the county began to utilize technology in the district. The performing arts magnet at Parkway led to adding Arts and Music to Dillard High School with Williams as the principal in 1992. Williams was also the first black administrator assigned to a predominantly white elementary school when he became the principal of Nova Blanche Forman Elementary in 1970.

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    The Old Dillard Museum is a historical landmark and an education center operated by the Broward Public School System. Funding for the museum's activities is provided in part by the Old Dillard Foundation, Funding Arts Broward, Bank of America, The Links, Inc., The National Endowment for the Arts and the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and other gracious supporters.

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