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Jimmy Jordan reminisces as a descendant of early Sanibel pioneers

By Staff | Feb 19, 2009

Jimmy Jordan remembers when he had to be bussed out to Dunbar to go to school.

But he is also quick to recall when the school for “colored” children dissolved for an integrated Sanibel school – the first in Lee County.

Jordan remembers the challenges and triumphs of local. black history

As a direct descendent of African American pioneers on Sanibel, Jordan has many experiences as a black man living on Sanibel.

Jordan who got named acting director of planning for the City Of Sanibel has spent most of his life on the island.

He and wife Marguerite – who co-authored a book about the of African Americans on Sanibel called “Images of America Sanibel Island” – have two college-aged daughters Angel and Alicia. They also have a new granddaughter Amaya Jordan born to Angel six weeks ago.

Because of her husband’s background and children, Marguerite Jordan worked to put together old family pictures and stories and co-author the non-profit book.

After learning about her husband’s rich background, Marguerite wanted the legacy to live on for their children and the community.

“It was definitely my labor of love,” she said.

Marguerite who came from big city living up north had to grapple with the racial mores of the time when she met Jordan, 30 years ago. As a white woman the idea of being with, no less marrying a black man was not considered the norm.

“The reaction we got from people was pretty surprising,” she said. “It never dawned on me that it would be an issue.”

The couple soon grew into a family and Marguerite spent their children’s growing years tenderly telling them the stories of their dad’s history.

A gentle soul by nature, Jordan tends to light on the positive advance of African Americans up to and including the recent election of President Barack Obama – the nation’s first black president.

“You can be anything,” Jordan said. “The sky’s the limit.”

But it took a while for things to get to a more enlightened point in local and national black history.

Jordan, 54, recollects how a separate but equal mentality was a way of life back in early Sanibel.

“There were definitely color lines drawn,” he said.

All that would eventually change for more tolerant attitudes and togetherness among the white and black island community.

Jordan is a descendant of the Walker family. Isaac Johnson, a farmer and businessman, is considered instrumental in getting the pioneering African American families to Sanibel, Jordan said.

During his childhood he said the African American families worked hard at trades such as plumbing, carpentry and electronics. Jordan’s dad Carl was known as an accomplished fisherman along with knowing plumbing and electronics.

Jordan’s mother Mozella is widely known for her cooking talents. She ran a successful catering business for 40 years and operated Mozella’s, a store for five years until she passed away.

“That was a big deal,” Jordan said of his mother’s successful business.

Sanibel History Museum and Village president Alex Werner said African Americans first came to the islands in 1917 as share croppers. The Gavins, Walkers and Jordans were the African American pioneer families, Werner said. The families worked and hard and helped shaped the islands.

“They were absorbed into society as entrepreneurs,” Werner said.

Pictures of the pioneering families can be seen at the museum in various buildings, including the Rutland House and General Store.

And though, Jordan’s ancestors helped build many of the homes that people live and plant the trees that line the islands, he said there is so much more that his families gave to the community.

“The biggest contribution is they were good people,” Jordan said. “We were vibrant members of the community.”

The spiritually-oriented family would get together every Sunday after church for family time. Sticking together and being good, productive members of society was the mantra in which Jordan’s family lived by.

And even as the island community grew more cohesive and integrated there barriers – some visible and others invisible remained. So the thought that some day a black president would be elected seemed pretty far fetched while Jordan was growing up.

“These types of positions were never a part of our thinking,” he said.

An ongoing sense to mind one’s way and not stand out became the pervasive way of thinking among many of the African American families on the island.

So when Jordan got a chance to meet President Obama last year at a special event and then watch him get inaugurated into August last month, it’s as if a new era began.

“It was uplifting,” he said. “I wished my parents and ancestors could have viewed this.”

And though Jordan admits there is still much injustice out there, he sees change. Jordan said race will eventually become more irrelevant and a more multi-cultural society will emerge.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “But we came a long way too.”